After his team’s 2-0 loss to the Norfolk Admirals Wednesday night, and in what can only be seen as grim humour, St. John’s IceCaps’ head coach Keith McCambridge commented that these days, when he makes his post-game comments to his team, his words are being heard by almost as many players wearing suits and ties as those in IceCaps’ uniforms.
Wednesday saw the Admirals extend their winning streak — now the longest in North American professional hockey history — to 21 games. For the IceCaps, the only thing that was lengthened was the lineup at athletic therapist Alain Chabbert’s door.
Captain Jason Jaffray is the latest St. John’s player to be sidelined. He was knocked out of Wednesday’s contest early in the second period by a crushing check by Norfolk defenceman Radko Gudas and didn’t return.
“(Jaffray) is undergoing tests tonight from their (the Admirals’) doctors and so we won’t know anything for sure until we get those results,” said McCambridge, “but Chabby (Chabbert) said, between periods, that things might not be as bad as they initially looked on the hit.”
In other words, look for any little ray of light in the gloom. But as its stands, St. John’s is missing four of its top five scorers to injury, call-up to the parent Winnipeg Jets or illness.
That quartet includes Jaffray; Jason King, the team’s top goal-scorer, who didn’t play Wednesday because of the flu; No. 1 defenceman Paul Postma (leg); and leading point-getter Spencer Machacek, who is with the Jets.
Also unavailable Wednesday: forwards Marco Rosa, Max Macenauer, Eric O’Dell and Brock Trotter, defencemen Brett Festerling and Derek Meech, and goalie Eddie Pasquale, all injured, as well as centre Ben Maxwell, on recall to the Jets.
The only goals in Wednesday’s game came about five minutes apart in the second period when Ondrej Palat scored shorthanded and Richard Panik tallied on the power play for Norfolk (47-18-3).
Netminder Dustin Tokarski stopped 32 shots in registering the shutout. He was the first star of the night, while second-star honours went to the Admirals’ Tyler Johnson, who had two assists.
IceCaps’ goalie David Aebischer, making only his third appearance in nearly five weeks and his first full-game performance since March 3, got the nod as third star. He faced 27 shots.
While St. John’s didn’t get a win, it still moved to the verge of clinching a playoff berth. That’s because the Manchester Monarchs lost 4-1 to the Portland Pirates on Wednesday. That means an IceCaps win or another Manchester loss in regulation would not only guarantee St. John’s a place in the post-season, but also first place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division. The latter brings the bonus of a top-three seeding entering the playoffs.
St. John’s (39-20-8) gets its first chance at that win Friday in a rematch with the Admirals in Norfolk.
McCambridge isn’t sure who will be in his lineup for that one — Scott Zurevinski, on an amateur try-out, was the lone healthy scratch Wednesday — but will be counting on the same amount of grit as was displayed Wednesday.
“We obviously didn’t get the result we were looking for, but we squeezed every ounce of effort out of the guys tonight and they never quit,” he said.
Notes: Defenceman Jason DeSantis was the IceCaps broadcaster Brian Rogers choice as the hardest working St. John’s player … With King ill, McCambridge went with a lineup that included seven defencemen, including Will O’Neill, making his professional debut. O’Neill was signed by the parent Jets earlier this week after completing his collegiate hockey career at the University of Maine …