IceCaps have overcrowded locker room, but injuries and call-ups have left the club wanting for the right pieces
Centre Aaron Gagnon (25) and winger Jason Gregoire (50), shown in a recent AHL game against the Hershey Bears, will be in the St. John’s IceCaps’ lineup tonight for a game against the Portland Pirates at Mile One Centre. However, many of their IceCaps teammates will be unavailable because of injury. — JustSports Photography
The words ‘irony’ and ‘ironic’ are frequently misused.
True irony occurs in situations where what appears to be is, in reality, the opposite of what actually is.
This is irony: The St. John’s IceCaps have so many players right now that they’ve had to set up an overflow dressing room at Mile One Centre to accomodate the extra bodies.The reality is the IceCaps have so many injured players that head coach Keith McCambridge might not be able to dress a full lineup when the American Hockey League club take on the Portland Pirates tonight at Mile One in the first game of a four-game home stand.
The fluxuations of the IceCaps’ roster in recent weeks have been soap opera-ish, with new twists and turns (and sprains) just about daily.
Here’s the latest:
• Centre Patrice Cormier was recalled to the parent Winnipeg Jets after Kyle Wellwood broke his foot on the weekend. With Wellwood and Tanner Glass (also out with a broken foot) both sidelined, it’s pretty much guaranteed Cormier and Spencer Machacek will remain with the Jets for thye last three games of their regular season.
•The loss of Cormier is countered by the return of Ben Maxwell from Winnipeg. Maxwell played well in five games for the Jets over the last couple of weeks, scoring a goal, adding four assists and registering a plus-five rating.
• Forward Ray Sawada and defenceman John Negrin — both hurt in Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Hershey Bears — are the latest to join a lengthy IceCaps injury list. Their inclusion keeps the roll call in the St. John’s infirmary hovering around double figures, anywhere from nine to 11 depending on whether centre Eric O’Dell and/or rearguard Brett Festerling can go tonight. If both play, then McCambridge actually would have to make a decision on a healthy scratch, probably a defenceman. If only Festerling dresses, then it would be a lineup of 11 forwards and seven defencemen. If neither suits up, and no last-minute reinforcements arrive, there will be a little more room on the St. John’s bench tonight; it would be a 17-man contingent, one under the norm.
• Defenceman Julian Melichiori, who almost made the IceCaps out of training camp, is set to hook up with the team sometime this week. The six-foot-four, 210-pound Melichiori had two goals, 31 assists and 64 penalty minutes in a 2011-12 Ontario Hockey League season split between the Kitchener Rangers and Oshawa Generals, who were bounced from the OHL playoffs over the weekend, The 21-year-old Meichiori recently signed an entry-level deal with the Jets.
• If you think Melichiori’s arrival might signal an influx of Jets’ prospects from the junior ranks, consider that quite a few (Mark Schiefele, Ivan Telegin, Cody Sol) are with teams still in the playoffs; that many are defencemen, a position that is not of greatest need for St. John’s right now; and that the Swift Current Broncos’ Adam Lowry, the son former NHLer Dave Lowry and a highly regarded forward prospect, hasn’t played since December because of wrist surgery. Overage centre Jimmy Bubnick, a sixth-round-pick in 2009, had 36 goals and 77 points for the Calgary Hitmen, whose WHL season is done; and 19-year-old winger Austen Brasserd (fifth round, 2011) had 27 goals and 51 points for the OHL’s Belleville Bulls, who were facing an elimination game against the Ottawa 67s Monday night.
• The updated list of IceCaps injured, not including O’Dell and Festerling: goalie Eddie Pasquale; defencemen Negrin, Paul Postma and Derrick Meech; and forwards Sawada, Jason Jaffray, Brock Trotter, Maxime Macenauer and Marco Rosa. The total number of players on the St. John’s roster — healthy, relatively healthy and unhealthy — stands at 31, even without Cormier and Machacek.
• By the way, if you were Googling on the weekend and discovered a news item about the Jets signing Japanase player Taro Tsujimoto, take note of the date on the item (April 1) and do a backward read of the name of Tsujimoto’s purported agent (Sloof Lirpa).
Festerling missed the last three games, two against the league-leading Admirals in Norfolk (losses by 2-0 and 2-1 scores) and Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Bears in Hershey.
“It was tough,” said the 25-year-old blueliner about watching from the sidelines. “Those games against Norfolk, everyone wanted to be in those, but you have to think in the long term.
“(Coming back too early) for two games when you (already) have a playoff berth isn’t worth sacrificing a playoff round, you know? Not that we take anyone lightly. We want to win every game and as players, we want to be in every game.
“That second game against Norfolk, even though we were missing a lot of guys, may have been one of the most passionate hockey games we’ve seen this year.”
Still, Festerling admits occasional musing about what it would be like if the IceCaps had a fully healthy roster.
“Sure, sometimes you do. Everyone knows this is a special group when we have everyone, but that last game against Norfolk showed we don’t need everybody back to make this a special group. And when we get to the playoffs, you have to be prepared to deal with some sort of adversity, whether its injury or a bad bounce or a hot goalie.
“You can imagine things being perfect, but they don’t always turn out that way.”
The IceCaps (40-21-8) have clinched first place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division and will be seeded no worse than third entering the Calder Cup playoffs. About the only tangible goal left for St. John’s is to finish second overall ahead of the Northeast Division-leading Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Portland (32-29-9) is in a much more desperate state. The Pirates, with six games left, trail the Manchester Monarchs, holders of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, by three points. They have a game in hand on Manchester, but two losses to the IceCaps would be close to fatal.
The Pirates arrive in town with a number of familiar faces. There are assistant coaches John Slaney and Mike Minard plus two players who are still on Winnipeg’s reserve list: goalie Peter Mannino and winger Kenndal McArdle, who went to Portland in an AHL deal that sent Trotter the other way. Mannino is 5-4-0 with a 3.37 GAA for Portland; McArdle has two goals and three assists in 13 games with the Pirates; and Trotter has yet to play for the Icecaps.