The St. John’s IceCaps know when they will play home games in the first round of the American Hockey League Calder Cup playoffs. They still have no firm idea of which team they will play in that opening best-of-five series.
The IceCaps, who will be the top seed in any matchup, have set Wednesday, April 25, Friday the 27th and Saturday the 28th as their three home dates in the first round, although it is only guaranteed the April 25 game at Mile One Centre will be played. The other two fall in the “if necessary” category.
It’s because of the dictates of the AHL’s playoff system. The league says, that in first-round matchups where teams are more than 500 kilometres apart, series will involve a two-three split in games. The top-seeded team must choose between starting with two games at home and finishing the series on the road, or — as St. John’s has decided — to begin with two games on the road and having the series conclude at home.
The IceCaps’ will officially announce their first-round home dates today, but chief operating officer and team governor Glenn Stanford says he’s already heard some grumbling from fans who have gotten wind of the possibility of the team beginning the playoffs away from Mile One. But Stanford believes they don’t really understand the dilemma the IceCaps’ faced.
“We want to give our team the best chance to win,” said Stanford, “and we obviously would like to win as quickly as possible, but if the series goes the distance, if it goes to a Game 5, I want that Game 5 to be at home. This was the only way that could happen.”
As for complaints IceCaps fans may be denied a home game or two by the choice, Stanford points out that as long as St. John’s advances past the first round, those games will be made up when the IceCaps competes in the conference semifinal.
“This is another case where geography is a factor, and not just for our us, but for other teams as well,” said Stanford.
“These are the rules of the AHL. With those rules in mind and with our wanting to give our team the best chance for success, we made what we thought was the best choice under the circumstances.”
The 500-kilometre rule (which will be the case for St. John’s throughout the post-season) will also apply in all subsequent playoff rounds, which will be best-of-seven series. In those case, the first two games would be played in the home rink of the top-seeded team, the next three would be scheduled in the opponent’s building and the last two, if necessary, would be back where the series started.
As for the IceCaps’ first-round opponent, that won’t be determined until this weekend, when the AHL’s regular-season concludes. Whoever it is, it’s likely the series would start on Friday, April 20.
As it stands, St. John’s most likely opponent will be the Syracuse Crunch in a second vs seventh matchup. The IceCaps, who have already clinched the Atlantic Division crown and a top-three seed, can secure the second seed in the Eastern Conference by earning one point in their last three games or if the Bridgeport Sound Tigers lose a game. Syracuse sits in seventh in the conference, four points behind the Connecticut Whale and three points up on the Manchester Monarchs and Portland Pirates, who tied for eighth. However, mathematics — as of today — says St. John’s could face any one of six teams in the first round: Syracuse, Connecticut, Manchester, Portland, the Providence Bruins or the Adirondack Phantoms. The latter is a longshot, but would be interesting, since St. John’s and Adirondack didn’t face each other in the regular season.
Also noteworthy: Syracuse, the affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, is the only one of the six whose parent team isn’t participating in the Stanley Cup playoffs.