So this is why we’ve waited all this while. Brock Trotter, the absentee star with the St. John’s IceCaps since landing in town just under a couple of months ago, scored a pair of breakaway goals as the IceCaps scored a 3-1 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in Game 1 of their second round Calder Cup playoff series at Mile One Centre Tuesday night.
Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal goes 7:30 tonight.
Trotter, a 25-year-old forward from Brandon, Man., was acquired from the Portland Pirates in an American Hockey League transaction in early March, with goaltender Peter Mannino and forward Kenndal McArdle going the other way.
Much was made of the deal at the time. In Trotter, the IceCaps were getting a player who’s averaged nearly a point per game through his AHL career, a player with a proven playoff track record, having stood out for the Hamilton Bulldogs during their playoff run two years ago.
Problem is, Trotter arrived hurt. In fact, he didn’t even arrive at all, instead heading to Winnipeg where he was given the once-over by Jets’ doctors, and treated for the proverbial ‘upper body injury.’
Trotter eventually found his way to St. John’s, but appeared in only two games for the IceCaps, on the final weekend of the regular season.
Trotter, in fact, managed only 42 games this season, split three ways between St. John’s, Portland and Hamilton.
“We dug up a lot of information to see exactly how he was,” said IceCaps’ coach Keith McCambridge, “to see what kind of person he is. All the reports were good.
“Injury-wise, it was just ensuring that he was going to able to play this year. It was a risk, but we knew the upside was what you saw tonight.”
In front of — you guessed it — another Mile One sellout of 6,287, Trotter tied the game 1-1 at 7:25 of the second period when he took a pass from defenceman Travis Ramsey and beat Penguins’ goalie Brad Thiessen.
The speedy Trotter managed to get behind the Wilkes-Barre and grab the puck which had been flipped high in the air by Ramsey.
“Nice sand wedge,” Trotter quipped.
It was a similar play in the second — minus the short-game shot — when Paul Postma delivered a long pass to Trotter who again slipped behind the Penguins defence and victimized Thiessen.
“That guy’s got some high-end skill,” said St. John’s defenceman Brett Festerling of Trotter.
“He’s a smooth player and I think we saw that with the breakaways and even the OT goal against Syracuse.”
Last Friday night, Trotter did the spadework on Derek Meech’s overtime winner which clinched the IceCaps’ first-round series over the Syracuse Crunch.
“He has the patience and skill to stop, wait and get room for other guys to get to the net,” Festerling said.
In that Friday game, St. John’s fell behind 2-0 to the Crunch before pulling out the win.
The scenario was obviously discussed within the dressing room walls as St. John’s dominated the first period Tuesday, outshooting the Penguins 20-4.
If not for Thiessen, in fact, this one would have been over after 20 minutes.
“For sure, he kept us in the game in the first period,” said Penguins coach John Hynes of his goalie, whose opening-period stops included one on a penalty-shot attempt by St. John’s winger Jason King.
“If it wasn’t for him, with the way we started, we could have been down by multiple goals.
“He played well and gave us a chance to win. We didn’t grab hold of that opportunity.”
“We talked about Friday night,” said IceCaps’ forward Patrice Cormier, who along with Trotter and Spencer Machacek forms one of the IceCaps top forward trios, “and we agreed that’s a start we cannot allow ourselves to have again.
“We had a chance to close the series and to fall behind 2-0 is not acceptable at all.
“The early power-play goal (Tuesday) kind of sucked, I guess, but we knew we had it in us, and we kept working and working and doing the little things right.”
Despite the early domination — on the shot clock, at least — it was the Penguins who had the only goal of the first period, veteran Cal O’Reilly’s fourth of the playoffs at 4:42 with Aaron Gagnon off for interference.
Then Trotter went to work, netting the only goal of the middle frame and the winner 2:27 into the third.
Garth Murray potted an insurance marker with just under two minutes to go in regulation time.
“I was pretty excited to learn I was coming to St. John’s,” said Trotter, donning a yellow Sou’wester after the game, autographed by the team with a sticker, ‘Quest for the Calder Cup’ on the front, a sort of in-house player of the game award voted on by the players.
“I wasn’t playing at the time, but I had played against these guys, enough to know this was a real good team.”
While Thiessen was very busy for the Penguins, Eddie Pasquale had a relatively easy time in the IceCaps’ goal, facing 20 shots.
The Penguins’ Ben Street, whose parents are from St. John’s, had his grandparents in the Mile One seats last night … Another Penguin, Zach Sill, while born in Truro, N.S., spent a couple of years living in Conception Bay South as a youngster … Winnipeg Jets’ head coach Claude Noel is in St. John’s for the two games against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton … The Coors Light three stars were 1. Brock Trotter 2. Brad Thiessen 3. Jason King … The Mary Brown’s hardest working IceCap was Spencer Machacek …
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. CP) — AHL playoffs Tuesday night:
1. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, O’Reilly 4 (Williams, McDonald) 4:42 (pp)
Penalties — Gagnon StJ (interference) 3:09, Grant WBS (hooking) 7:24, Street WBS (holding stick) 17:08.
2. St. John’s, Trotter 2 (Machacek, Ramsey) 7:25
Penalty — DeFazio WBS (high-sticking) 12:06.
3. St. John’s, Trotter 3 (Postma) 2:27
4. St. John’s, Murray 1 (Albert, Sawada) 18:06
Penalties — DeSantis StJ (interference) 4:06, Trotter StJ (delay of game - restricted area) 19:09.
Shots on goal by
WB/Scranton 4 8 8 — 20
St. John’s 20 7 10 — 37
Goal — Wilkes-Barre/Scranton: Thiessen (L,3-3); St. John’s: Pasquale (W,4-1).
Power plays (goals-chances) — Wilkes-Barre/Scranton: 1-3; St. John’s: 0-3.
Referees — Terry Koharski, Mark Lemelin. Linesmen — Jim Vail, Sheldon Keough.
Attendance — 6,287 at St. John’s