Eric O’Dell’s third goal of the year, in only his fifth game, stood as the winner as the St. John’s IceCaps opened their two-game American Hockey League series with the Norfolk Admirals Saturday night with a 3-2 win at Mile One Centre.
The victory improves the IceCaps’ record to 4-3 on the year. It was Norfolk’s first loss in five games.
In fact, it was the first loss in 32 consecutive regular season games for the Admirals franchise, which set a National Hockey League and AHL record last season, closing out the year on a 28-game unbeaten streak.
Of course, last year’s Admirals, who went on to win the Calder Cup league championship, are not this year’s Norfolk club. That’s because the Admirals today are the farm club of the Anaheim Ducks, following a number of years as the AHL affiliate for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In an ironic twist, the core of this year’s Admirals roster played last season for the Syracuse Crunch, and last year’s Norfolk team is now this year’s Crunch, where the Lightning have parked their farmhands.
Zach Redmond and Jason Jaffray also scored for the winners. Devante Smith-Pelly and Sami Vatanen replied for the Admirals.
Mark Dekanich, rebounding from a rough start against the Portland Pirates last week, when he was yanked after allowing six goals, stopped 28 shots to register his first win at Mile One.
Frederik Andersen was busy between Norfolk’s pipes, facing 43 shots.
Following a scoreless first period, Redmond brought the 6,287 Mile One faithful — a 51st consecutive sellout — to life when the defenceman scored his third goal on the year.
Joining the rush, Redmond took a pass from Jaffray, which bounded off the stick of Norfolk’s John Mitchell, and backhanded a shot past Andersen.
Just less than two minutes later, Jaffray made it 2-0 St. John’s when he whacked a loose puck in the crease through Andersen’s legs in only his second game back in the IceCaps’ lineup since he was hurt last March 28 in Norfolk, an injury which required spinal fusion surgery.
The Admirals got a big lift when Smith-Pelly, who appeared in 49 games with Anaheim as a 19-year-old last season, scored with 36 seconds to go in the second period.
O’Dell put St. John’s up by two at the 8:27 mark of the third period when he circled the net and banged home a loose puck.
Vatanen gave the Admirals some hope with a power play goal at 15:10, but the IceCaps managed to hang on for the win.
Jaffray, with a goal and an assist, was the game’s first star. Dekanich was the second, while O’Dell took third-star honours, as selected by the Canadian Press.
The teams meet again 4 o’clock this afternoon before the IceCaps embark on a five-game road trip.