Speedy rookie joins Sawada and Murray as the IceCaps’ momentum seizers
St. John’s IceCaps’ winger John Albert (left) chases down Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ forward Colin McDonald during Game 7 of their AHL Eastern Conference semifinal Saturday night at Mile One Centre. Albert was the second star in the game, which the IceCaps won 3-2 to advance to the conference final against the Norfolk Admirals. That series begins Thursday night in Virginia. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
The now-familiar applause rained down from the seats at Mile One Centre last Saturday night, and rightly so.
“Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!”
Eddie Pasquale has been the St. John’s IceCaps’ best performer so far through the Calder Cup playoff dance. Not even close.
The 6,287 faithful would break into the “Eddie’s better! Eddie’s better! Eddie’s better!” salute every so often, no doubt a knock at the opposing puckstop, and a spinoff from the “Crosby’s better!” Winnipeg jeer at Alexander Ovechkin.
On this Saturday, or any other night of the week, for that matter, you would be pressed to hear an “Albert! Albert! Albert!” unless, of course, you had an old Canadian Tire commercial taped.
Young John Albert hasn’t exactly been an offensive dynamo for the IceCaps this season, but the rookie out of Ohio State University has carved himself a nice little niche in the St. John’s lineup.
Saturday at Mile One, in the IceCaps’ biggest game of the year, Albert was the game’s second star as St. John’s slipped past Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 3-2 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.
That series win sets up a date with the Norfolk Admirals in the East final which begins Thursday night at The Scope in Norfolk, Va.
Though he managed only nine goals and 27 points in his first professional campaign, Albert did a lot of little things right this year, and it could be argued the trio of Albert, Garth Murray and Ray Sawada was the best St. John’s iced in the second round against the Penguins.
“He’s been a surprise,” IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge said of the 23-year-old winger. “His speed really jumps out, his work ethic jumps out. That’s the biggest thing.
“What John Albert does for this team is he makes players around him better, he makes players work harder.
“When guys might not have that energy during the regular season, or the playoffs, they watch what John Albert brings to the ice. He raises the level of the guys around him.”
It’s an interesting combination, that so-called energy line of Albert, Murray and Sawada. There’s the rookie and the veterans (Sawada’s 27 and Murray is 29). Albert has the wheels. Murray brings a fierceness. Sawada has the size to control the corners.
“They can seize you momentum,” McCambridge said. “When you feel the game may be slipping away, you can put them out and they will try to get it back being physical, getting pucks deep and getting pucks out of your own zone.”
Saturday night, St. John’s got the all-important first goal when Albert raced down the left side and threaded a nice pass through two Wilkes-Barre defenders on to the stick of Sawada, driving to the net to cash in his third goal of the playoffs.
Sawada, 6-2 and 205-pound product of Richmond, B.C., is relatively new to the IceCaps, having joined the team in March in a minor league deal that saw Shawn Weller set to the Texas Stars.
But the other two have been around since Day 1, odd couple they are. Murray, a Canadian from Saskatchewan, made his NHL debut while Albert, an American from Ohio, was still playing minor hockey.
“I came into camp and I had no idea who he was,” Albert said of Murray. “Then we kind of got acquainted and got put together on a line.
“We’ve gotten to be good friends off the ice,” said Albert of Murray. “Almost every day, he comes over to the house to play video games or whatever.
“He’s a good guy … a real nice, respectful guy.”
Murray pegs Albert as a “fun-loving guy,” a player everybody in the room likes.
But he’s also a player they respect for what he brings to the game.
“When you can skate like that, especially nowadays, you create a lot of space for yourself,” Murray said.
“He’s got a lot of energy, and when you’ve got wheels, you cover a lot of ice and you create stuff.
“Alby’s smart too… he knows where to go and where the puck will end up.”
Albert is only signed for one year, although one would think the Jets will table him an offer over the summer.
Not that he’s thinking contract now. Rather, it’s about winning an AHL championship.
“We’re focused on one thing and that’s winning the Calder Cup,” he said. “We have the team to do it and everybody in this locker room knows it.”