If necessity is the mother of invention, then it also the godparent to adaptation.
As an example of this relationship, we give you St. John’s IceCaps’ rookie forward Eric O’Dell, a life-long centre who, as of late, has been playing the wing for the injury-depleted, recall-ravaged IceCaps.
“None. I’ve always been a centre,” answered O’Dell when asked about any previous experience as a winger.
“But you know what? l’m starting to like it.”
O’Dell would have to like it, if only for the opportunity and increased ice time provided. Because it’s wingers that are in short supply on the IceCaps, what with Jason Jaffray and Carl Klingberg called up to the parent Winnipeg Jets and Jason Gregoire, Shawn Weller and Riley Holzapfel, a centre who had been playing wing on St. John’s top scoring line, all injured.
It was the Klingberg recall and Holzapfel’s injury last week that provided a chance for O’Dell and fellow rookie Shayne Wiebe. Both had been healthy scratches for two weeks before getting into the lineup for weekend road games in Hamilton and Toronto, both IceCaps’ wins. And they’re set to play again tonight as St. John’s hosts the Syracuse Crunch in the first of two American Hockey League games at Mile One Centre.
Wiebe, a left-winger, had an assist and was plus-one in the two recent road contests, playing mostly as Holzapfel’s replacement on a line with Marco Rosa and Spencer Machacek, St. John’s leading scorers. O’Dell had a goal and an assist and was plus-two overall on the weekend earning third-star honours Friday in a 4-0 win over the Bulldogs.
Wiebe is still looking for his first pro goal — “But you can see where it’s just a matter of time,” said IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge — and has four assists in seven games this season. O’Dell has three goals and an assist in eight outings. Both are plus four.
“I convinced myself my chance was coming, but I wasn’t sure when it was going to happen,” explained O’Dell, who says the big adjustment to the right wing has been the lack of continuous motion, at least compared to his career position.
“As a centre, you’re always moving your feet, always on the go. You’ve always got momentum. But as a winger, sometimes you’re stuck on the wall and it’s a little harder to get going.
“But I’m getting used to it. I’m getting more comfortable there.”
McCambridge had little doubt O’Dell could make the adjustment, suggesting “If a guy plays the middle, he can play the wing. Usually, it’s a tougher move going the other way.
“For him, it was a matter of finding out where he fits and then getting him into the lineup. Probably not in that order, because you’ve got to get him in the lineup to find out how he fits. So far, he’s fit in pretty well on the wing.”
While O’Dell’s and Wiebe’s places in the lineups and roles were never certain over the first eight weeks of the season, McCambridge says their talents were never in doubt.
“With young players like that, whether they’re playing one (game), then missing five, or it’s in practice, you can still see if they can play. And both these guys, when you watched them, there was something there. You could see where they could play, that they both had bright futures.
“And their character was good. They worked hard every day. They didn’t whine and moan about not playing. They knew whenever their opportunity came, they would make the most of it and they have.”
It wasn’t only rookies making the most of circumstances on the weekend.
Veteran goaltender David Aebischer, at 33 the oldest player on the St. John’s roster, started both games in Ontario, getting his first shutout of the year while making 21 saves against the Bulldogs, then facing the same number of shots in Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Marlies in Toronto.
Aebischer hadn’t played a minute in nearly a month, but when Peter Mannino, then Eddie Pasquale, took the losses in back-to-back games against the Marlies at Mile One last month, it wasn’t shocking to see McCambridge tag Aebischer with the starter’s label last weekend.
“There was a window of opportunity for him and when they come along, you have to do something with it or the window closes fast,” said the St. John’s coach.
“He did something with it.”
As a result, Aebischer will make a third straight start for the first time this season as the IceCaps host the Crunch (7:30 p.m., Radio 930 AM/This Is Newfoundland Labrador and online at stjohnsicecaps.com