By Tom Williams
Hockey’s Calder Cup has a Youngstown connection.
Saturday in Toronto, former Youngstown SteelHounds general manager Joe Gregory was among those hoisting the Calder Cup on the ice of the Ricoh Arena after the Norfolk Admirals swept the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League championship series.
The AHL is pro hockey’s equivalent to baseball’s Triple A International League.
The Admirals, based in Norfolk, Va., finished the postseason with a 10-game winning streak, capping an incredible four months where they lost just three times (43 wins in 46 games).
“I’m 33 and I don’t know if I’ll ever see anything like that again,” said Gregory, a 2001 graduate of Youngstown State University who is a vice president and governor for the Admirals.
He’s also the general manager for the Norfolk Tides, the Triple A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.
After closing the AHL season with a 28-game winning streak, the Admirals went 15-3 in the postseason to claim their first Calder Cup.
“Winning the last 10 of the playoffs would have been a nice story on its own, if the 28-game streak didn’t overshadow it,” Gregory said.
“My name wouldn’t be going on the cup, but I will be getting a ring,” said Gregory who joined the Admirals in July 2008 shortly after the SteelHounds were ousted from the Central Hockey League.
It will be the second championship ring for Gregory. He also earned one when the Mahoning Valley Scrappers won the New York-Penn League in 2004 when he was the team’s director of business development.
Gregory said the hockey ring will be one to treasure because it’s harder to earn.
“The Scrappers had to win two best-of-3 series,” Gregory said. “We snuck in as a wild-card and ended up winning four games.
“In hockey, it takes 15 wins,” said Gregory, whose brother Marc is the Columbus Blue Jackets’ vice president of digital marketing and media.
“One bad round can be a killer — anything can happen when you are playing that many games.”
Gregory remembers how SteelHounds coach Kevin Kaminski wore a Calder Cup ring from when he was with Portland.
“I loved my Scrappers ring, but I always had my eye on the ring Kaminski wore,” Gregory admitted.
The Admirals are the top affiliate club of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Gregory is responsible for front office decisions regarding tickets and marketing. Personnel decisions are handled by Julien BriseBois, the Lightning’s assistant general manager.
The Admirals finished 55-18-1-2 for 113 points to win AHL’s East Division. The Admirals earned 18 points more than the second-place Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ affiliate.
The Admirals surge began with a loss on Super Bowl Sunday. Gregory said the Admirals surrendered a lead for their 18th and final defeat of the season.
“There’s really no personnel change or anything that made a difference,” Gregory said. “We had great team chemistry.”
As the streak gained momentum, team personnel began checking out hockey’s longest streaks. The AHL record was 15 in one season and 18 spread over two.
The NHL record was set by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992 when the Pens finished the playoffs with an 11-0 run to capture their second straight Stanley Cup. The mark grew to 17 when the Pens won the first six games of the 1992-93 season.
Because of injuries and call-ups to the Lightning, Gregory estimated that only eight players played in every one of the final 46 games.
“When you consider the personnel moves, that’s what makes the streak special,” Gregory said.
While in Toronto for the final two games, Gregory made his second visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The other time he was there was when he was in college.
The Hall cites the SteelHounds for being an affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets and has an Admirals jersey on display.
“To go back now as someone working in professional hockey pro and seeing things where you’ve made contributions, it’s a hell of an honor,” Gregory said.