Norfolk, Va. — In the second period of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal between the St. John’s IceCaps and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Mile One Saturday night, the Pens’ Bryan Lerg dropped down to block a shot by IceCaps defenceman Paul Postma.
Postma, a big rangy, hard-shooting rearguard, leaned into the puck and Lerg, a smallish forward, took the full brunt of the disc somewhere on his anatomy.
Lerg flopped around on the ice for a moment, managed to scramble to his feet and hobble to the Penguins’ bench. He literally crawled along the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton bench, where he received congratulatory pats on the back from teammates, before being assisted to the team’s locker room.
“The commitment to blocking shots has definitely heightened (in the playoffs),” said IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge.
“Everything is on the line. Each game means so much so obviously players dig in more when it comes to taking care of shot lanes.”
The Penguins were a team that blocked many a shot on goal through their second-round series with St. John’s.
And they’re not alone.
The IceCaps can probably expect to see more difficulty getting pucks to the net when they take on the Norfolk Admirals, who were dominant through the regular season, finishing first overall in the American Hockey League, in the Eastern Conference final starting Thursday night.
Game 1 goes 8:45 p.m. NL time (930 AM), followed by Game 2 9:30 Saturday night (930 AM).
The series then shifts to St. John’s next Monday and Tuesday and, if necessary, next Saturday. If sixth and seventh games are needed, they will be played at The Scope in Norfolk May 29 and 30.
As far as shot-blocking goes, it’s not just the AHL, of course.
With the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs narrowed down to a Final Four, we’re seeing more and more shots from the blueline prevented from reaching the goal.
Paying the price. Sacrifice. Commitment to winning.
We hear these words all the time in hockey dressing rooms this time of year.
Part of that commitment is blocking shots, and it often comes with painful consequences.
“I was in Atlanta’s rookie camp, and it was the last game before the main camp opened,” recalled St. John’s forward Patrice Cormier Tuesday.
“There was a minute left in the game, and it was a four-on-three. They had only one defenceman on ice — it’s Postie (Postma) — and I said I’ll stay with the D.
“He winds up, I go down and I break my right foot. Missed camp and didn’t play my first game until January.
“It’s part of the game and, you know what, I would still block it again.”
Players drop down to block shots during the regular season, but those plays aren’t as plentiful as they are in the playoffs, when things tighten up all the way around.
“There’s not a lot of room to move out there with tight-checking games,” McCambridge said.
“It’s playoff hockey. There’s so much on the line that everybody lays everything they have out there, every shift.
“That entails shot-blocking, playing physical, shutting down other teams defensively, looking to make the most of your scoring opportunities. It’s good, sound playoff hockey.”
McCambridge, who spent 11 years as a hard-nosed minor pro defenceman, says there’s an art to blocking shots, rather than flopping on the ice in front of the shooter.
It’s about not lining yourself up with the shooter’s body, he says, but rather with the player’s stick.
“Some guys are better at it than others,” he said. “There is definitely is an art form to it.”
“You can’t think about it,” said Cormier. “If you do, you’re going to move out of the way. Some guys, you can see they don’t want to block a shot.
“Don’t think about it. Just throw your body out there and hope for the best, hope you’re in the shooting lane.”
There’s an old Cheech and Chong skit that goes something like this: a Japanese admiral meets with his kamikaze pilots and explains to them they will take their planes high in the air, find an enemy destroyer and crash their plane into the ship, killing themselves and all aboard. The pilots will be hailed as heroes in Japan. The admiral then asks if there are any questions? At which time a pilot in the back asks, “Are you out of your $%& mind?!’
When asked if he tells his players to drop down and block pucks shot at 100 miles per hour or more, McCambridge says, “I don’t coach that way.
“But guys realize we harp team unity, team togetherness and part of that is being there for your teammates, for your goaltender and if you have a chance to take away a scoring chance by blocking a shot, guys know that is what they need to do.”
As for Lerg, by the way, he returned to play the third period.