Nineteen times this 2011-12 American Hockey regular season, the St. John's IceCaps will play two-game series against visiting teams at Mile One Centre. So if the IceCaps are looking to maintain their lofty place in the league standings and perhaps gain meaningful long-term home-ice advantage for playoff series in the spring, they'd better figure out where someone hid the broom.
The visiting Syracuse Crunch defeated the IceCaps 5-3 Wednesday night, meaning St. John's (15-5-4) has come away with back-to-back wins in just one of their seven home series to date and have an overall record of seven wins and seven losses (two in overtime) at Mile One. In contrast, they have yet to lose in regulation on the road, with just two OT defeats in 10 away contests.
Granted, Wednesday's result had as much to with what Syracuse (11-9-3) did as opposed to what St. John's didn't, with a special tip of the cap to Crunch winger Kyle Palmieri, who had three goals — none of them cheap — and an assist. But IceCaps' head coach Keith McCambridge and his charges know knocking off the same opponent a couple of times in two or three nights isn't so much about coralling a hot-shot prospect. And it isn't really all about devising strategies you can map out on a board or work on it practice.
It really is a state of mind.
"Your dealing with (situations where) the team that wins the first game, lays off the gas potentially for the second, and the team that loses — and we saw it take place today — comes out with a push, hungry to get points out this building," said McCambridge, whose team had beaten the Crunch 4-3 on Tuesday.
"The mindset has to be if you win that first game, you have to have a real strong push in the second, a real strong start and tonight, our start to the game wasn't good."
The IceCaps were outshot 9-4 in the first period and went into the first intermission down 2-0 on a pair of goals by Palmieri.
They were much better in the middle stanza, getting goals from Kevin Clark and Paul Postma before and after Syracuse's third tally, this one by Palmieri's linemate, Peter Holland. And while outscored 2-1 in the third — the Crunch got Palmieri's hat trick goal and an empty-netter from Brandon McMillan — the home side did provide reasons for a 14th straight sellout crowd to stick around, especially after Aaron Gagnon scored on a power play with just over two minutes remaining.
But it wasn't enough, and overall, the Caps' performance Wednesday wasn't up to the foot-to-the-throat, not-in-our-house attitude required under such circumstances.
The IcCeaps' last chance for a home series sweep in 2011 comes this weekend as they host the Worcester Sharks Friday and Sunday. The team then plays six straight road games, split up by a week-long Christmas break, before returning to St. John's in early January.
The games against the Sharks will make six in nine days — with travel — for the IceCaps, so Clark says they need to be ready physically.
"We kind of had a college schedule for a while," said Clark, referring to a six-game November home stand consisting of only weekend games. "Now, you really don't get those practice days during the week ... so you have to make sure you use your time to allow your body to recover and get the right nutrition."
But, as McCambridge is sure to remind his players, they better to be mentally strong, too.
"Were we ready tonight? I thought we were ready, but not as hungry as Syracuse," said McCambridge
"If you give team life coming off a loss, they're going to run with it. That's the lesson. Just don't give them any chance to get back in that second game and put some doubt in their minds."
Notes: Winger Jason King, who shares the IceCaps' goal-scoring lead with nine markers, was injured in the first period and did not return, making him questionable for the weekend series against Worcester. Caps' coach Keith McCambridge said he wasn't sure how King was hurt, but that there will be and update today after a medical assessment ... Centre Ben Maxwell and defenceman Brett Festerling, assigned to St. John's by Winnipeg the day before, both played for St. John's Wednesday. Scratches for St. John's included rearguards Kyl Bushee and Ben Chiarot and forward Daniel Koger, all of the healthy variety, and forwards Shawn Werller, John Albert and Riley Holzapfel who fall under the "injured" column ... Eddie Pasquale made 30 saves in the St. John's net, while Jeff DesLauriers had 23 saves for Syracuse, including some big stops in the late going with the result still in doubt ... Kyle Palmieri, who had four goals and six points in the two games for the Crunch, took the AHL lead in goal-scoring Wednesday with his hat trick, giving him 17 tallies on the season ... Some St. John's hockey fans might have recognized the square jaw of Syracuse assistant coach Marty Wilford, who played 60 games for the AHL Leafs a decade ago ...