© — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram
Somewhere in a home in Lakewood, Calif., there’s a letter that was written about 15 years ago by a Grade 9 student explaining to his mom and dad why it was so important that he play hockey.
It can be difficult — financially and otherwise — to support the aspirations of a young hockey player, especially one from southern California, and even though it’s likely the parents had already resolved to do whatever they could to help their son, they saw the letter-writing, that act of outlining dreams in a tangible ink-on-paper form, as an important exercise for their young man. It was important enough that they’ve kept the letter all these years,
This weekend, St. John’s IceCaps’ defenceman Travis Ramsey might be thinking about those words he wrote as a teenager in suburban Long Beach. Reminding himself of why he so badly wants to play hockey might help him get through what certainly are a tough and strange few days.
“Not since my first year of junior, which was 2001,” answered Ramsey when asked about the last time when he entered the final few games of the hockey season with only pride on the line.
That’s the situation for the IceCaps, who are finishing up their 2012-13 American Hockey League season with games tonight and Sunday afternoon in Toronto against the Marlies. St. John’s was officially eliminated from Calder Cup playoff contention a week ago, with four games remaining.
“It doesn’t feel good, that’s for sure,” said Ramsey about the IceCaps’ situation. “But I don’t approach these games any differently. Actually, I don’t know how to approach them any differently.
“I’m still excited to be able to play. I still want to win.
“And we know there are certain other motivations involved. Players are being evaluated for next year. Guys want contracts.”
Ramsey falls into that category. His AHL deal is expiring after having played more than 300 games with the IceCaps and the Manitoba Moose before the Moose relocated to St. John’s two years ago. Among current St. John’s players, that gives him the second-most seniority within the franchise, after captain Jason Jaffray.
But having reached that seniority level, Ramsey also has arrived at official AHL veteran status — teams can only dress six AHL veterans for each game — and that will certainly be a matter of some consideration as the Jets and/or other organizations consider employing him for next season.
Ramsey is well aware of this, of course, but says he hasn’t dwelled on it too much. And he certainly sees no reason to mope or be content with simply playing out the string this weekend.
“Even if things don’t work out to where I could play here (in 2013-14), I know they (coaches and management) give recommendations to other teams about how you perform down the stretch, whether or not you’re going to be in the playoffs,” he said.
“But honestly, I don’t even think about that before games and I won’t for these last ones. All I think about is how desperately I want to win.”
That would be the sort of attitude head coach Keith McCambridge is counting on this weekend.
“The work ethic doesn’t change, the mindset doesn’t change. We go out on to the ice to win games,” said McCambridge this week as his team prepared for a season-ending road trip that also included a Friday night game against the Bulldogs in Hamilton.
“We have to know that what we’re feeling right now, about not being in the playoffs, is something we have to remember next season, all season long.”
And even though there is no playoff berth or position on the line for St. John’s this weekend — maybe because there isn’t — these games could reveal much.
“I know this. You learn lot from people in situations like this, when you’re facing some adversity. I know when people are in these situations, they can often let their guard down and I know players can show the character they have,” said McCambridge.
He added that what transpires this weekend will play a role in decisions about whether some players are “back with us, or what the recommendation will be if other NHL clubs or European clubs call about these players.
“I don’t expect these guys to lay off.”
Like Ramsey, this early end to the season is something rare for McCambridge, who is in his seventh year behind the bench of a professional team, either as an assistant or head coach in the ECHL and AHL. That’s followed a playing career that saw him spend four years in the major junior ranks and 11 more in a pro career in the AHL, IHL and ECHL.
“As a coach, I’ve never not been in the playoffs. As a player, there was only one year when I was on a team didn’t make the playoffs,” he said.
“This is definitely odd. When you’re in the playoffs, you’re in the moment. You’re always preparing for the next game. You don’t know when you’re last game is going to be.
“But now we know the last game of our season is Sunday.
“It’s definitely a different feeling, one that I don’t look forward to having to experience again.”