They’ve had trouble stringing together wins this season, are near the bottom of their conference standings in points and goals-for and, oh yes, they have a cruddy power play.
And no, they’re not the St. John’s IceCaps, though you could be excused for assuming we were talking about the slumping second-year American Hockey League team from Newfoundland.
Rather, we present the Toronto Marlies, Calder Cup finalists last year, expected to be contenders again this year, a team that suddenly can no longer consistently score goals or win hockey games.
So you see, IceCaps fans, you’re not alone. The Marlies, expected to make a run at a league championship again this season, are near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
The new AHL campaign is but 10 or 11 games old (12 in the IceCaps’ case), so there’s lots of time to cure what ails St. John’s, and Toronto, too, for those who care.
Nonetheless, the IceCaps’ slide of late is very disconcerting, especially considering this is a team that reached the AHL’s final four last season, a team that was supposed to be — on paper, at least — better this year.
Yet, a dozen games into the season and St. John’s is a middling 5-7 entering tonight’s tilt in Hershey, Pa., clewing up what’s so far been a lousy five-game road swing (1-3).
The IceCaps have been shut out in three of their last five games, and very nearly made it four in five if not for Alex Burmistrov’s tally with 74 seconds to go in regulation time Wednesday night in Manchester, N.H., which wound up a 4-1 IceCaps loss to the Monarchs.
They’ve managed to score more than three goals in a game only once in this young season, and their 25 goals-for are fifth-fewest in the Eastern Conference (and keep in mind, St. John’s has played at least two more games than the other 14 teams in the East).
And then we come to the power play: in their last 39 man advantage opportunities, St. John’s has connected only once.
So what’s going on here?
Already some darts are being fired at coach Keith McCambridge, which may be a bit unfair. McCambridge didn’t forget how to coach over the summer.
Burmistrov, the supremely-talented locked-out Winnipeg Jet, has only two goals though he leads the team with seven points. Burmistrov can dangle, and weave through the opposition as good as anyone in the league, and as much as McCambridge will maintain he’s not concerned with the young Russian’s production, it’s evident Burmistrov is not finishing the job.
See TEAM, page B3
It’s not like he’s playing like someone who doesn’t want to be in the American Hockey League. Rather, Burmistrov’s mood around the dressing room is upbeat, and he plays hard, venturing into areas of the ice (read: corners) where some skilful player have a tendency to duck.
But this isn’t all on Alex Burmistrov’s shoulders. Fact is, no one is scoring.
Maybe it’s because the league is better today, because of the NHL lockout. Maybe the IceCaps aren’t as good as we reckoned.
I don’t know.
This isn’t a make-or-break time of the year, but the IceCaps need a wake-up call, and they had better get things sorted out.
Because you know that big crowd that’s been selling out Mile One since the AHL (Part II) hit town last year, the one with the IceCaps’ love-in? Well, history’s shown they can sour in a hurry.
Nathan Noel of St. John’s is off to a pretty good start this season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the Minnesota hockey factory, with four goals and 11 assists through 19 games. Even more impressive is the fact Noel is playing on Shattuck’s prep team — it’s top team — as a 15-year-old. Only a handful of players have ever made Shattuck’s prep team as an under-ager, and those names include Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Zach Parise. Put it this way: Nathan MacKinnon, the Halifax Mooseheads star who is the early bet to go No. 1 in the 2013 NHL Draft, failed to make Shattuck’s prep team as a 15-year-old. Remember Noel’s name. ... A couple of former St. John’s Maple Leafs are taking on high-profile positions with Hockey Canada. Doug Shedden, who coached the Leafs in their final two years in St. John’s, will be Canada’s coach at the Spengler Cup after serving for three years as an assistant coach. Shedden has been the head coach of EV Zug in the Swiss A League since 2008. While “Sheds” is doing his thing at the Spengler Cup, former St. John’s Maple Leafs forward Rich Chernomaz is coaching the Canadian entry in the Deutschland Cup which opened Friday in Munich. Chernomaz, who coaches Ingolstadt of the German Elite league, returns as head coach after leading Canada to the gold medal at the 2008 Deutschland Cup. He was an assistant coach under Mark Messier at the 2010 tournament. Chernomaz played a pair of seasons in St. John’s, 1993-94 and 94-95. Keeping with the Deutschland Cup, ex-St. John’s IceCaps defenceman Brett Festerling is a member of the Canadian team. ... When the lockout ends, and it will end this month, you know what I’d like to see? I’d like the NHL teams to come back and play before half-full rinks. I’d like to see the fans make a statement. But it won’t happen. ... Marcus Cuomo isn’t a hockey player flush with natural talent, but his work ethic is second to none. A rookie with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Saint John Sea Dogs, Cuomo has two goals and three assists this season. I’m not sure if Cuomo will play pro when he’s done junior, but scouts will be taking a second look at the hustling 17-year-old from St. John’s — unlike other youngsters who have loads of talent, but instead choose to loaf their way through practice and games. ... Can anyone show me a Newfoundlander with a more impressive sports résumé than Wayne Russell, a former chairman board of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (before it became known as Hockey Canada), head of the CAHA’s Hockey Development Council and now is treasurer of the Canadian Olympic Committee? Russell also headed up Own the Podium, the organization which determines investment strategies to national sport organizations in an effort to deliver more Olympic and Paralympic medals for Canada. If there is one out there, I don’t know about him or her. ... Can John Albert, in only his second season as a pro, already be considered one of the St. John’s IceCaps best players? ... Congrats to my friend Roy MacGregor, who goes into the Hockey Hall of Fame today in the media category. Ironic that MacGregor penned the book, “Wayne Gretzky’s Ghost,” for Roy is the Gretzky of hockey writers ...
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email email@example.com