They will never be mistaken for the Broad Street Bullies, the Philadelphia Flyers teams that ran amok in the NHL through the 1970s, but the St. John’s IceCaps — circa 2012 — if nothing else proved Saturday night they won’t be run out of the rink.
In their first real test on the toughness metre, the IceCaps answered the bell, although it was the Worcester Sharks getting the decision, a 4-2 American Hockey League win at Mile One Centre.
That came on the heals of a 3-2 St. John’s victory Friday night, alas another two-game series at home in which the IceCaps settle for a split.
Only twice this year, against the Connecticut Whale and Manchester Monarchs, has St. John’s pulled off the sweep.
As St. John’s recovered from the much-hyped storm which hit the capital city earlier in the day, there was plenty of fury inside Mile One Saturday, evening with 112 minutes in penalties dished out by referee Marcus Vinnerborg.
Included were a dozen fighting majors, including three to Garth Murray, who received a fine applause from the IceCaps faithful when he was finally sent to the showers.
Say one thing for St. John’s hockey fans: they like their tough, honest hockey players.
If there’s been a knock against the IceCaps this season — and how can you find fault with a team that’s first in its division, three points out of the overall lead? — it’s a perceived lack of toughness.
But what is toughness? Toughness, as in the drops the mitts and go? Or toughness, as in taking a hit to make a play, battling with a big defenceman in the corner, or clambering to your feet to get back in the play after taking a big hit?
“I think we have a lot of character,” said Murray. “I don’t think we have a man-for-man, fighter-for-fighter team.
“But in that room are 20 guys, and any one of them would stick up for any guy.”
The tone was set early on by Murray and Sharks’ defenceman Sena Acolatse, who dropped the gloves three seconds after the opening faceoff.
The fisticuffs continued with the IceCaps’ Patrice Cormier and Sharks’ Curt Gogal, with Murray and Brandon Mashinter then going at it.
When it was all said and done, St. John’s forward Kenndal McArdle and defenceman Arturs Kulda — who knew? — had also picked up fighting majors.
“We’ve got an immensely tough team that doesn’t get fazed by that stuff,” Murray said. “We’re in first place in the Eastern Conference and teams have tried to do that before and it hasn’t worked.”
While IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge, who played a rugged defence during his 11-year playing career, was pleased with the way his team responded to the Sharks, he was less-than-impressed with the work of Vinnerborg, a Swedish official.
“The ref,” McCambridge said, “wasn’t able to keep the game under control. He let calls right in front of him go. Our goaltender is run twice and there’s no call. Last night, (John) Albert gets him from behind and there’s no call.
“The ref let that game get out of control so it worked in their (Sharks’) favour. That’s a style of game that they play. We play a fast-paced game and the ref let them play their style.”
Albert, the rookie St. John’s forward, was hit from behind by James Livingston Friday night. While Albert did finish the game, he was scratched from the lineup Saturday.
The IceCaps are expected to send videotape to the AHL’s Springfield, Mass., office.
“We didn’t last night,” Worcester coach Roy Sommer responded when asked if the Sharks’ game plan included the rough stuff. “We didn’t win the battle for pucks (Friday). We didn’t block up the middle, so yeah, we had to get physical.
“That’s a good team over there,” he said of the IceCaps, “and we can’t skate with them, so we have to play more physical. We’re stronger than them … that’s our strength.”
“I'm not one to ever put fault away from our team if they don't execute the way they should, but both those games, especially tonight, was a game that was out of control because the ref let the game get played at an era of taking the game back to 40 years ago,'' McCambridge said.
“That's not the way today's game is played.”
Added St. John’s captain Jason Jaffray, who appeared to be high-sticked at centre ice mid-way through the tilt:
It was one of the most frustrating games to be a part of. In 10 years pro, I’ve never been a part of something like that,” he said.
“How you get two-handed in the face and it goes unnoticed baffles me.'”
Ryan Del Monte had the tying goal and Mike Connolly’s tally 18 seconds later was the stake to the heart to the IceCaps.
After Paul Postma, who is playing outstanding hockey right now, and Livingston exchanged second-period goals, the IceCaps jumped ahead 2-1 1:04 into the third period on rookie Carl Klingberg’s first goal in 14 games.
That lead stood until Del Monte and Connolly struck at 5:57 and 6:15.
Mashinter, into an open net, sealed it for the Sharks.
St. John’s won’t have long to think about the Worcester series. That’s because the Providence Bruins are in town for games Tuesday and Wednesday. The IceCaps’ stretch of six games in 10 games continues next weekend when the Binghamton Senators drop by Mile One for games Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
The Molson Cup three stars Saturday : 1. James Livingston 2. Patrice Cormier 3. Mike Connolly … John Negrin, the defenceman picked up in a trade with Calgary last week for Akim Aliu, didn’t dress either Friday or Saturday … The Bruins’ leading scorer is rookie Carter Camper with 11 goals and 22 assists in 46 games … Paul Postma finished the night plus-two with four shots on goal …