The St. John’s IceCaps had every reason to mail in the two points Sunday afternoon, and get ready to watch some playoff football. Instead, the IceCaps came up with a gritty effort that had coach Keith McCambridge singing the praises of his troops.
“This was a very tired hockey team,” McCambridge said of his IceCaps following a 3-2 shootout win over the Sharks in Worcester Mass., Sunday afternoon. “This was a very impressive win. They had every excuse to quit and not compete, but they dug down, just as they’ve been digging down all season.”
The game in Worcester was the IceCaps’ third American Hockey League tilt in three days, and second game in less than 24 hours.
Sunday afternoon’s game was originally scheduled to start 3 p.m., but the Sharks requested a 1 p.m. drop of the puck given the New England Patriots-Baltimore Ravens NFL playoff game in nearby Foxboro, Mass., and the impact it might have on the gate.
“Worcester has some big bodies, some real physical players,” McCambridge said. “They came out with the intention of intimidating, but the guys didn’t back down.
“It was a real good win.”
Garth Murray scored the only goal of the shootout Sunday to give the IceCaps their second win on the weekend. St. John’s beat the Connecticut Whale 2-1 Friday night in Hartford, but lost 5-2 in Portland, Me., Saturday evening.
Murray and Ben Maxwell scored for the IceCaps in regulation time Sunday. Brandon Mashinter scored both Sharks’ goals.
David Aebischer, who backed up Eddie Pasquale Friday and Saturday nights, made 22 saves, and was a perfect five-for-five on saves in the shootout.
Saturday, the Pirates got goals from Patrick O’Sullivan, Matt Watkins, Brett McLean, Alexandre Bolduc and Michael Stone. Scoring for the IceCaps were Aaron Gagnon and Jason King, with his team-leading 13th goal.
Friday, Jason Jaffray’s deflection just 16 seconds into overtime won it for the IceCaps. Riley Holzapfel, making his first start in 18 games while recovering from a fractured orbital bone, opened scoring for St. John’s. Kris Newbury scored for the Whale.
The IceCaps played the three games without forward Patrice Cormier, recalled to Winnipeg to replace Evander Kane, who is out with a concussion.
But St. John’s did have the services of defenceman Derek Meech, who cleared waivers and played his first game Saturday night.
Meech appeared in two games with the Jets before suffering a knee injury Oct. 29. He had been sidelined ever since.
“He was real impressive,” McCambridge said of the former Detroit Red Wing, who is wearing No. 7. “You can see that veteran experience in him. He’s a strong skater, and there were no problems with the knee.
“We were going to ease him in the lineup, but he ended up playing more minutes because of penalty trouble. And he played very well.”
In addition to Meech, the Jets also reassigned Paul Postma to St. John’s Friday.
The IceCaps bused to Bridgeport, Conn., following Sunday’s game. They have a day off today before skating Tuesday morning. Tuesday night, the team heads into New York City to watch the Rangers and Jets at Madison Square Garden, before taking on the Sound Tigers Wednesday night.
Friday, St. John’s is off to Manchester, N.H. for a game against the Monarchs before a rematch with the Pirates in Portland Saturday night.
After that, the team has a five-day break as the AHL stages its All-Star Classic in Atlantic City, N.J. Jan. 29-30.
McCambridge is coaching the Eastern Conference team, which includes IceCaps defencemen Paul Postma and Zach Redmond.