The St. John’s IceCaps were a team with a scoring-by-committee means all season long — the team’s top scorer, Spencer Machacek, was 53rd overall in the American Hockey League — but the 2012 Calder Cup playoffs have provided a glimpse at a new-look IceCaps squad.
One in which the offence starts with the defence.
“This is,” said Machacek yesterday, a day before the IceCaps open their second-round playoff series with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 7:30 tonight at Mile One (930AM, Rogers TV), “by far the strongest corps of D I’ve seen in my four years of pro.”
Coach Keith McCambridge trotted out a nice mix of skill, speed and grit against the Syracuse Crunch in Round 1 of the playoffs, led by Friday night’s hero, Derek Meech, with his overtime goal to clinch the series.
Meech, who sat out most of the season with a pair of knee injuries, has 128 NHL games punched in, primarily with the Detroit Red Wings, and it shows in his game.
Paul Postma appears to be healthy, coming off a leg injury that caused him to miss 12 games at season’s end. Postma was the IceCaps’ MVP and top defenceman this season.
Jason DeSantis, though he had his moments against Syracuse, had a career season with the IceCaps, finishing third in team scoring during the regular season, just behind Postma and Machacek.
Arturs Kulda and Brett Festerling have quietly gone about their business in St. John’s, logging quality minutes for McCambridge, while Travis Ramsey brings size to the team’s blueline.
“I would say,” said McCambridge, “this is definitely top two in terms of a defence that I’ve seen.
“It’s been real consistent through the whole season, through callups (Festerling, Kulda and Postma) and injuries (Meech).
“(Zach) Redmond has had a chance to really blossom, and DeSantis evolved from a guy who was watching from the press box to taking heavy minutes.
“It’s probably the best depth I’ve seen at the American league level where you have your No. 7 and 8 guys who are still very good defencemen who can play solid two-way games.”
The key to success for the group, said McCambridge, is all are strong skaters — in the case of Postma and Meech, very, very good skaters — and all understand that while jumping up into the rush is nice, it doesn’t come recklessly, at the expense of taking care of business in their own end first.
“It’s definitely nice to have in today’s game guys who add that second layer to the attack. Everybody skates back so hard these days, if you have that second wave coming, now it creates confusion.
“But with us, it’s controlled. They realize where we are in the game, what the score is. Is it 3-1 for us in the game with 10 minutes to go? We’re not joining the rush there. Are we down 3-1 with 10 minutes to go? We’re going.”
Having worked as an assistant coach for the Manitoba Moose last season, McCambridge had an inkling of what he was inheriting on the blueline this year, having seen Postma and Kulda in Chicago last year, Meech in Grand Rapids and Festerling splitting his time between Syracuse, Hamilton and Chicago.
DeSantis, who split his time in Wilkes-Barre and primarily the ECHL, and Redmond, a rookie, were the wild cards.
“(Assistant coach) Mark Morrison and I sat down over the summer and saw potentially what our ghost roster would be,” McCambridge said. “‘If we get player A and B, we have offensive-minded guys who can add to the rush, can all skate, can put pucks in the net.’
“You look at the some of the numbers those guys have had in their careers. We knew we couldn’t overlook that. We had those horses so we had to make sure we implemented them into out offensive zone tactics.
“It’s worked out nicely so far.”