McCambridge's stay in St. John's could be brief

Robin
Robin Short
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It's still a bit early to be talking about this, but what odds: don't be surprised if Keith McCambridge doesn't get a sniff or three from NHL teams if his St. John's IceCaps make a run towards the American Hockey League's Calder Cup championship this spring.

Not that McCambridge is saying much. Not touching it with it with a 10-foot Sher-Wood. Instead, it's all about team, about being happy in the Winnipeg Jets' organization. Etc. Etc.

McCambridge raised more than a few eyebrows this season, guiding the IceCaps to the fourth-best record in the AHL, despite a rash of injuries and call-ups to the Jets, who also went through a slew of players relegated to the DL.

Let's take a peak at McCambridge's record: for three years, he was a player-assistant coach in the ECHL, becoming a full-time assistant in 2006-07. When he took over the head coaching reins in 2007-08, his Alaska Aces reached the conference final. The next year, Alaska went to the Kelly Cup league final.

Beginning in 2009-10, McCambridge worked two years as an assistant coach with the Manitoba Moose under Scott Arniel and Claude Noel until taking over the top job this season when the Moose trampled off to St. John's.

McCambridge wouldn't be the first to be fast-tracked to the NHL. Guy Boucher spent only a year with the Hamilton Bulldogs, reaching the AHL's Western Conference final before Tampa came calling.

Like Boucher, McCambridge is Mr. Preparation. He once joked he may be a little obsessive compulsive over some things.

Dan Bylsma had only punched in 54 games as an AHL head coach with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (he was an assistant for two years prior to that) when the Pittsburgh job came up after the Penguins fired the universally reviled Michel Therrien. Bylsma seized control and the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.

"His day will come," said Noel, in town this week for the first two games of the IceCaps' Eastern Conference semifinal with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, "and it won't be too far around the corner. Keith's done a real good job with this team.

"When you focus on doing the job, these opportunities exist. They always do."

Noel, of course, coached the Jets this season. He was assisted by Charlie Huddy, who worked as an assistant in Edmonton, and Pascal Vincent, a bit of a surprise selection given his only other coaching experience was in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

McCambridge could have had the Winnipeg assistant's job, but opted instead for a head coaching gig in the American league.

At some point, assistants need the top job, just as Kirk Muller went to Milwaukee of the AHL from Montreal (before landing in Carolina).

"Keith's been an assistant for a few years in the American league so I think it's good for him to get back to being a head guy again," Noel said. "St. John's has good direction."

Noel spent many a year kicking around the American league - he made a couple of visits here back in the day, coaching the Milwaukee Admirals against Doug Shedden's St. John's Maple Leafs - and in the old International league as a head coach and assistant.

If anyone knows the value of a minor league affiliate, it's this guy.

"You're making a big mistake if you think you're minor league team is an afterthought," Noel said.

He should have been around during the Leafs' days, or more to the point, under the watch of then-Toronto general manager John Ferguson and his lapdog lieutenant Mike Penny, the St. John's GM.

Like in 2004, when St. John's was clinging to the faint hope of a playoff spot. Toronto, with a post-season berth secured - that was, by the way, the last time the Leafs made the playoffs - recalled the St. John's starting goalie, Mikael Tellqvist, to essentially be a practice puckstop behind Curtis Joseph and Trevor Kidd, while the AHL Maple Leafs' netminding chores were left to the inconsistent Sebastien Centomo and rookie J,F. Racine (St. John's missed the playoff dance).

"When you build an organization," said Noel, "it's important to have success in the minors. That doesn't necessarily mean you go out and spend money to always be the best team, but you give the team an opportunity to win because I think winning and learning how to win is just as important in the development process as individual play."

The Jets, through St. John's general manager Craig Heisinger, have done just that, boosting the IceCaps' chances of winning with a couple of late-season additions (Brock Trotter and Ray Sawada).

Now it's up to the players and McCambridge to bring it all together.

The latter will be living up to his end of the bargain.

NHL teams like that.

IN SHORT

Paul Postma, the IceCaps' MVP and top defenceman this season, has shot up the Winnipeg Jets' depth chart. There was some concern over Postma's defensive play last fall, and the fact he was still a bit lean. "When we reassigned him," said Winnipeg coach Claude Noel, "he had played pretty well for us. But we wanted to get him a little bit more experience, to get to a better foundation of defending. We knew what he could do offensively. He's come miles in his game, so he's put himself in a real good situation to stay with us next year. For a big man who skates as well as he does, it's hard to keep those guys out of the game." ... The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Central Scouting has released its final rankings and Clark Bishop of St. John's is ranked second overall. Defenceman Cody Donaghey of St. John's is ranked No. 9 and forward Lucas Batt is ranked 10th. Can't remember a Newfoundlander ever ranked as high as second overall. The highest-drafted Newfs were a pair of third-rounders - Brandon Hynes of Norris Point in 2008 and Colin Escott of St. John's in '05. Not to rain on the parade, however, but the midget draft is only the first step on a very long road. And it doesn't mean a great lot. Consider the 2009 draft: Saint John's Jonathan Huberdeau, who in all likelihood will play in the NHL next season, was selected 18th overall in 2009 ... Not to sound hateful or prejudice, but if you're an NHL general manager, shouldn't you be just a little worried over making a Russian your top pick in the draft? More and more Russians, like Alexander Radulov and possibly the Jets' Alexander Burmistrov, are playing the KHL card. And then there's the case of Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, who opt to go drinking into the wee hours the night after a playoff game. And, if we had the time and space, we could debate the fact whether some Russian players check out in the playoffs. So, with Nail Yakupov, the top-ranked player in this year's NHL Draft, are teams looking at another Sidney Crosby or another Alexander Ovechkin, the latter a player around whom troubles appears to be lingering? ... The Calgary Stampeders recently drafted Billy Peach from Kingston, Ont. in the third round, 19th overall, in the CFL draft. Peach lived in St. John's until he was four-years-old and is the son of Jim Peach and grandson of Bill Peach, both of whom are from the capital city. Young Peach played at Jacksonville University last year and is a six-foot-six, 310-pound offensive tackle ...

Robin Short is The Telegram's Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: NHL, Winnipeg Jets, IceCaps American Hockey League Penguins Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Manitoba Moose Maple Leafs Milwaukee Admirals Calgary Stampeders CFL Jacksonville University

Geographic location: St. John's, Wilkes-Barre, Alaska Winnipeg Tampa Pittsburgh Toronto Edmonton Montreal Carolina Saint John's Kingston

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