Keith McCambridge stood with arms folded and held tightly to himself, and with a scowl on his face.
If St. John’s IceCaps’ head coach had been outside Tuesday, his posture and unhappy demeanor might have been explained by his having to deal with the bone-chilling breeze that blew through St. John’s. But instead, the scene — think of a dad waiting at home for his son after hearing the latter has backed the new family car through the front door of a grocery store — was being played out behind the bench at Mile One Centre.
And it was played out almost from the start of what turned out to be the IceCaps’ 4-2 American Hockey League loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs. From the get-go, there was an unpleasant whiff around the home side, and McCambridge’s arms-to-chest stance may have also doubled as a way to keep from holding his nose.
If there were any doubts about how McCambridge felt, they were put to the rest in his post-game scrum with reporters, when he started talking about his team’s performance without even waiting for a question to be posed.
“I thought we didn’t come to compete,” he began. “I thought that was one of those games where we looked, pretty much to a man, with the exception of a few guys, looked to mail that in.
“I thought we were outbattled for loose pucks. We weren’t skating. We weren’t moving our feet. The execution wasn’t there. We didn’t play at the level that we need to play at.”
The Bulldogs (27-27-7) sit second-last in the AHL’s Western Conference, but with four wins in seven meetings with St. John’s (37-16-7), are the only opponent with a winning record against the IceCaps —who sit second overall in the AHL — this season, and have been, as McCambridge observed has been “a team that has given us fits.”
Upper Island Cove native Robert Slaney, with his first American Hockey League goal (see accompanying story), Ian Schultz, Joey Haddad and Andreas Engqvist, the latter into an empty-net, scored for Hamilton. The IceCaps got power-play goals from Jason King and Zach Redmond, the second one coming with five seconds left in the game.
Nathan Lawson looked mostly cool and confident throughout as he registered 32 saves in the Hamilton net. St. John’s netminder Eddie Pasquale, who will make a sixth straight start tonight in a rematch with the Bulldogs, made 27 saves.
The game was scoreless after one period and knotted at 1-1 after Schultz and King exchanged power-play markers in the second. Still, despite the score being close for most of the game, this was a contest where it seemed the IceCaps were simply surviving, treading water but not going very far in the process.
“You could see from the start we weren’t anywhere near where we wanted to be,” said McCambridge. “The problem is once you’ve come out like that, it’s really hard to get the game back to where it needs to be. You can’t push a button and think your’re going to be at level 5 when you started at level 1.”
He doesn’t expect a similar start tonight.
“I know this. That is a rare exception for this team,” he said, later noting his team has responded well when bounce-back performances have been required.
“Usually, they’re playing their hearts out on the ice.
Tuesday’s game was the sixth in 11 days — with travel — for St. John’s, but King refused to accept fatigue as an excuse for the IceCaps’ performance. And if he had, it probably would have spelled trouble for a team that will finish off its current homestand with three games in less than five days.
Instead he predicts the Caps will be fired up for tonight’s last regular-season meeting with Hamilton.
“We’re a proud hockey team. We have a lot of character in that room,” said King, who leads St. John’s with 18 goals.
“We have to make sure we show it on the ice.”
Notes: Among those found in the Mile One press box Tuesday: IceCaps general manager and Winnipeg Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger, former Montreal head coach Jacques Martin, now working in player development for the Canadiens; and St. John's native and Pittsburgh Penguins' director of pro scouting Derek Clancey… Tuesday's Molson Cup three stars: 1. Robert Slaney, Bulldogs; 2, Nathan Lawson, Bulldogs 3. Jason King, IceCaps … The Mary Brown's hardest working player for St. John's: Kevin Clark …