It’s not often a hockey coach can’t wait to hit the bricks for a road trip, but that’s probably what is going through Keith McCambridge’s mind today.
His sputtering St. John’s IceCaps dropped another game yesterday, a 5-3 decision to the Worcester Sharks before a Sunday afternoon sold out crowd of 6,287 at Mile One Centre.
In the series-opener Friday, the IceCaps lost 4-3. The losing skid started last Wednesday with a 4-3 setback to the Syracuse Crunch.
“Personally speaking,” said IceCaps forward Ben Maxwell, “it shouldn’t be anything different playing on the road, relative to home.
“We’re going to have to forget about these two games and not dwell on them too much.”
Uh, the IceCaps’ play at home and on the road has been entirely different this season, actually, although Maxwell can be excused, having just joined St. John’s from Winnipeg last week.
The loss Sunday dropped the IceCaps to 7-7-2-0 at Mile One, which has greeted the team with 16 straight sellouts this season. Away from home, St. John’s has only two overtime losses in 10 games.
“I look at other teams coming in here, excited to be playing in front of large crowds,” said McCambridge, the IceCaps’ coach. “That evens things out.
“But we have to find ways to ensure we play with the intensity at home that we play with on the road. I thought we took a step in the right direction with that tonight in the first two periods.”
Just as they did Friday night, the Sharks were first on the scoreboard, Sunday’s goal coming just as the buzzer sounded to end the first period. But, in a mirror image of Friday’s game, the IceCaps scored three unanswered goals.
However, for the second straight game, St. John’s coughed up the lead, this time surrendering four straight goals, including an empty-netter.
Red-hot Tommy Wingels scored the tying goal, and then accepted an early Christmas gift from the hosts to net the game-winner.
With under two minutes to go in regulation time, IceCaps’ veteran Marco Rosa had possession of the puck, but threw it up the middle, on to Tony Lucia’s stick. Lucia fed Wingels, who beat Peter Mannino for the go-ahead goal.
Wingels also scored the game-winner Friday night.
“Tonight’s game is not a matter of Worcester earning that game,” maintained McCambridge. “It was a matter of us handing it to them. We shot ourselves in the foot. We have to realize where we are in the game, pinching at the right times, getting pucks out of our zone, taking momentum on our side.
“We handed that game to them tonight. Nothing against the way they played, but this is a lesson that this cannot happen. We have to learn from this and know that when we get up, we have to close out games.”
Marek Viedensky, Ben Guite and John McCarthy also scored for the Sharks. Spencer Machacek, Paul Postma and Aaron Gagnon replied. The line of Machacek, Rosa and Maxwell (two assists apiece) combined for five points.
With the IceCaps up 3-1, Worcester started the third period with a five-on-three man advantage. It didn’t take long for the Sharks to bite, with Guite scoring 37 seconds in. Afterwards, Worcester coach Roy Sommer admitted his bench, “picked up and saw a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Then it was Wingels’s turn to go to work.
Not that the IceCaps did a lot to stem the tide, outshot in the third period by a 17-3 margin.
McCambridge doesn’t put a lot of stock in shots on goal stats. And he takes some comfort in the fact the Detroit Red Wings were on 21-14-6 at Joe Louis Arena last year, and 26-11-4 on the road. This season, the stat has flipped as the Wings are 12-2-1 at home and 6-7 away from Detroit.
But the fact is St. John’s is 1-5 in its last six games at Mile One, and has only swept one of eight two-game series’ (against the Connecticut Whale) on home ice.
“You want to make sure this is a tough building in which to come and play,” McCambridge said, “and come playoffs, you’ve got to have home ice advantage. Right now it isn’t.”
The IceCaps hit the road Thursday for the first half of a road trip cut in two by the Christmas break. St. John’s plays in Manchester, N.H. Friday and Portland, Me. Saturday and Sunday before enjoying a 10-day break.
After Christmas, the IceCaps are in Hamilton and Toronto for a pair of games before returning home for a two-game set with the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings) Jan. 6-7.
NOTES: Carl Klingberg was reassigned from the Winnipeg Jets and his presence in the lineup couldn’t come at a better time. Despite missing six games while on recall, Klingberg is still tied with Jason King for the team’s goalscoring lead (nine apiece). Speaking of King, nothing’s confirmed but he figures to play this weekend in Manchester and Portland. King missed the weekend series against the Sharks … With Klingberg and King due back, Daniel Koger is likely headed back to the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones … Held off the scoresheet last Wednesday in his first game with St. John’s since being reassigned from Winnipeg, Ben Maxwell enjoyed a pair of two-assist games against Worcester … Winnipeg assistant GM and St. John’s GM Craig Heisinger took in the two games … IceCaps fans are complaining – rightfully so – about the cool temperatures inside Mile One Centre … Sharks defenceman Matt Irwin was recalled to San Jose Sunday … Sunday’s game was another chippy affair between the two clubs with three figths one after the other. This after two spirited scraps in the early stages of Friday’s game.