They’ve been among the American Hockey League’s elite since the drop of the puck back in October, currently sitting four points out of the Eastern Conference and overall league lead heading into the backstretch.
And they’ve done so with a scoring by committee.
The St. John’s IceCaps carry a 35-15-5-2 record into tonight’s home ice date with the Hershey Bears (31-19-4-5), beginning 7:30 p.m. (Rogers TV, 930 AM).
The IceCaps trail only the Norfolk Admirals, and they do so with a lineup that might be a poor man’s version of the 1977-78 Boston Bruins, who still hold the NHL record with 11 20-goal scorers on the roster.
That might be stretching it a bit – although the IceCaps do have nine players in goalscoring double figures — but consider this: St. John’s is third in the East and the league in goals for, yet their top scorer, Spencer Machacek, sits 35th overall in league scoring (13-30-43). And if you exclude Brock Trotter, picked up last weekend on loan from the Portland Pirates, the IceCaps’ second — and third-leading scorers are defencemen Paul Postma and Jason DeSantis.
And what does this mean, you ask? Easy answer, according to St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge, who speaks glowingly of his team’s depth and balance.
“The makeup of our team since Day 1 has been that of good balance between our forwards and defence, guys who can score goals and guys who can defend well,” McCambridge said.
“You can’t define our first line from our fourth line and that’s been a quality we’ve had all day long.
“If we reverse things, and I’m the coach on the other team, who do I try to shut down here? Everybody on every line can has a little of everything you need — they can score, they can check, they can be physical, they defend well.”
With the addition of Trotter and Raymond Sawada, also acquired last weekend in a minor league trade for Shawn Weller, the IceCaps’ teeter-totter remains level.
In Trotter, the IceCaps get a skilled player who can put points on the board. Sawada prefers to knock bodies into the boards, a lunchpail-toting, third-line hockey player.
Trotter is still in Winnipeg, getting checked over for an upper-body injury that’s kept him sidelined for three weeks. Sawada made two appearances in an IceCaps jersey as St. John’s closed out a recent road trip. Those were his first games in over two months since suffering a knee injury.
So goaltending aside (which might be another matter — see Brendan McCarthy’s column on this page), it appears things have fallen into place quite nicely for St. John’s. Scoring? Check (Trotter, Machacek, Carl Klingberg, Jason King). Grit? Check (Sawada, Patrice Cormier, Garth Murray.
McCambridge said he’s tried to find the right chemistry when making up his line combinations this year. Sometimes, he says, when you have three offensive players who want the puck, “nobody goes and gets the puck. I like to balance off guys who are going to retrieve the puck and get them to the offensive guys.
“Am I entirely comfortable? I would never say that, and I don’t know of any coach who says he’s comfortable at any time during the season. But I like the way our guys play, I like how hard they compete.”
Got ’em, got ’em, need ’em
Anyone for flips or knockdowns? With the cost of today’s hockey cards, youngsters are not likely playing many of the games that were once commonplace in schools.
Cards are considered more of a collectible today, and on that note, the AHL and the Professional Hockey Players Association — the minor-league player union — have unveiled a 2011-12 AHL Top Prospects set featuring 50 of the league’s brightest young stars.
Included in the set are a pair of St. John’s IceCaps – Paul Postma and Carl Klingberg.