It’s impossible to not feel the buzz, to get a sense of the energy surrounding the St. John’s IceCaps’ first-ever home-opener tonight at Mile One Centre, so IceCaps’ head coach Keith McCambridge is encouraging his players to appreciate the moment.
He’s also insisting that they not get swept up in it.
“The message is to enjoy the night, but the focus is building off the pace we had in the first two games and the work ethic we brought, at times, in those games,” said McCambridge Thursday as his team prepared to take on the Hamilton Bulldogs tonight (7:30 p.m.) at Mile One.
“The main message is we want those two points.”
The IceCaps started the 2011-12 American Hockey League season with a pair of road wins in New England last weekend and have had five days to get ready for the Bulldogs, the farm team of the Montreal Canadiens.
“It is good to be at home,” said McCambridge. “You can’t help but feel the excitement and see all the build-up. So you tell the players to enjoy it, to a point, but it all comes down to one thing, the same thing as it is for the other 75 games we play and that’s winning.”
Goalie David Aebischer, who was the first star with a 21-save performance as St. John’s downed the Providence Bruins 4-1 a week ago tonight in the IceCaps’ first-ever game, will get the start itonight. A lineup shuffle sees Shawn Weller moving to the third line with centre Patrice Cormier and right-winger Kevin Clark, while rookie John Albert takes Weller’s spot on a line with Garth Murray and Carl Klingberg.
The inevitable tri-colours
IceCaps’ chief operating officer Glenn Stanford knows the substantial Montreal Canadiens’ following in these parts means there will be more than a few Habs jerseys in the Mile One stands for tonight’s game, even though it will be his team’s first-ever home contest.
“That has always beens the case in the past and I don’t expect that to change just because this is our first game at home,” said Stanford. “It’s one of the things that has always made the AHL, especially AHL games in St. John’s, so interesting.
“I’m sure that when the Marlies come here, there will be lots of Leafs jerseys and when the Rangers’ farm team (the Connecticut Whale) are here next month, you’ll see some of there colours, too.
“You can’t complain about it. You have to embrace it.”
He’s still officially on the roster of the parent Winnipeg Jets, but forward Aaron Gagnon is in St. John’s as he continues his recovery from an injury that has delayed the start of his season.
Gagnon, who appeared in 19 games for the Dallas Stars last season, is on the Jets’ injured reserve list with an ailment that is unspecified, but one that is expected to keep him from playing until next month. The 25-year-old would have to come off the IR and clear waivers to be formally assigned to the IceCaps.
The Bulldogs won their first game of the season Saturday, defeating the Rochester Americans 5-2.
There have been plenty of changes to the Bulldogs team that went all the way to the 2011 AHL Western Conference semifinal before being knocked off by the Houston Aeros. The new look starts behind the bench, where Clement Jodoin has replaced last year’s head coach, Randy Cunneyworth, now in Montreal as an assistant to Jacques Martin.
Among the new faces in uniform are former Canadian world junior star and Habs first-rounder Louis Leblanc, who missed the season-opener with a shoulder injury; goaltender Nathan Lawson; and 33-year-old forward Brian Willsie, who has nearly 400 games of NHL experience with Colorado, Washington and Los Angeles. In Hamilton’s first game, Willsie played on a line with Brock Trotter and Aaron Palushaj, but Palushaj has since been promoted to Montreal due to Mike Cammalleri’s injury.
Veteran defenceman Alex Henry is the Bulldogs’ captain.
Work to get ready for tonight’s game was proceeding feverishly at Mile One Centre Thursday, including installation of giant TV screens in the four corners of the building. They will provide additional viewing points for material previously only available on the scoreclock.
As well, technicians were putting the final touches on Rogers Television’s in-house control booth at Mile One. Rogers will have live broadcasts of 14 IceCaps home games and will have a next-day replay of the remainder.
All of the IceCaps games — home and away — are being broadcast on Radio 930 AM This is Newfoundland Labrador and online at that station’s website. Brian Rogers’ pre-game show will begin at approximately 7 p.m. tonight.
IceCaps by the numbers
The average weight of the St. John’s players is 197 pounds, while the median height is six feet and 3/4 of an inch ... The biggest IceCap is defenceman Travis Ramsey, listed at six-foot-four and 216 pounds. At the other end of the list is five-foot-eight, 167-pound forward Kevin Clark ... The average age of the IceCaps is just slightly over 23 ... The oldest player on the team is goalie David Aebischer, who is 33, while defenceman Ben Chiarot, who won’t turn 21 until March, is the youngest ... Twelve of the 26 players on the St. John’s roster shoot right, including goalie Eddie Pasquale ... In total, the IceCaps have 544 games of National Hockey League experience, led by Aebischer (214) and Garth Murray (116). In all, a dozen St. John’s players have appeared in at least one NHL game
He said it
“They're a darn good hockey team. They've got a ton of experience and to hang in with them and play them to a 1-0 loss, I think that says a lot about how hard our guys competed. We competed hard and to hold a veteran-laden team to one goal was a good sign for us. When you play a good-skating team like that that has composure with the puck and defends as well as they defended, it's a learning curve for our guys.” — Manchester Monarchs’ head coach Mark Morris commenting to the Manchester Union Leader after the IceCaps defeated his team 1-0 Saturday in Manchester.
Notes: The IceCaps will have plenty of special guests for tonight’s opening ceremonies as the team highlights St. John’s hockey past — the senior hockey Capitals and AHL Maple Leafs — but the team is keeping mum on the lineup of honourees. However, it is known AHL president Dave Andrews along with Mark Chipman, chairman of Truth North Sports and Entertainment, which operates the Winnipeg Jets and owns the IceCaps franchise, will be on hand. ... IceCaps’ defenceman Mark Flood’s goal a week ago tonight 1:15 into what would turn out to be a 4-1 win over the Providence Bruins wasn’t just the first goal in IceCaps’ history, it was also the first goal of the 2011-12 AHL season ... At 3 p.m. Monday, the IceCaps are holding auditions for performers to sing the national anthems before games. Would-be anthem singers should enter Mile One through Gate 2 and register with Jenelle Herbert, the IceCaps’ game-day producer ... IceCaps Alley, the official merchandise store for the AHL team, is now open at Mile One ... Before tonight’s game, the IceCaps are holding a tailgate party, beginning at 5 p.m. outside Mile One, featuring live music from the Rolling Kings. Two tickets to the home opener will be awarded to the fan with the craziest and most creative IceCaps themed costume. After the game, the Coors Light IceCaps After Party is being held at The Majestic on Duckworth Street. Admission is free.