Norfolk, Va. — The St. John’s IceCaps will have their work cut out for them when they take to the ice tonight for Game 1 of their American Hockey League Eastern Conference final against the surging Admirals in Norfolk.
Aside from the fact the Admirals present a formidable opponent, the IceCaps skate into the venerable Scope Arena tonight (8:45, NL time, 930 AM) likely without the services of their leading scorer this season.
Although nothing is official, Spencer Machacek is not expected to dress for St. John’s after suffering what appeared to be a leg injury in the second period of the IceCaps’ Eastern Conference semifinal Game 7 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Saturday at Mile One Centre.
While Machacek did accompany the team to Norfolk, he did not skate in Wednesday’s practice..
The official word from the IceCaps about Machacek, who had 18 goals and 32 assists during the season, is, “game-time decision.”
If Machacek can’t go, his spot in the lineup could be filled by Kevin Clark, who was skating on a line with Brock Trotter and Marco Rosa on Wednesday.
Clark played the first game of the Calder Cup playoffs against the Syracuse Crunch, but was a scratch for nine straight games before drawing into the lineup last weekend.
“Kevin Clark can play a first or second line role, or a third or fourth line role,” said IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge. “He can play any way you want him to play. He can be a checker, an agitator, a guy who executes at a high skill level. His strength is he’s very versatile. You can put him in any one of those situations and he’ll compete hard and do well.”
Carl Klingberg, who missed the pivotal Game 7 against the Pens last weekend to injury (Clark took his spot), after appearing in all 10 playoff games, skated Wednesday.
But the thinking is Clark is the safer bet now, considering Klingberg has produced only one goal — against the Crunch in Game 4 — in 27 games, dating back to March 6.
Clark is a smallish winger — he’s listed at 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds — but big on energy. When he’s knocked down, the 25-year-old from Winnipeg is quick to scramble to his feet and rejoin the play.
“I’m tenacious on the puck,” Clark says. “I guess I have a real intense style of play … lot of energy.”
“When Keith put Clarkie in there for Game 7,” said forward Jason King, “I think the boys were really excited.
“He’s a little sparkplug out there. He gets us going, gets under guys skin, and he’s reliable.
“He’s been a guy who’s filled in all season when we had some key injuries. He stepped up and played some big minutes. He’s been a big part of our year.”
The IceCaps enjoyed a tremendous regular season campaign, finishing second in the East, and fourth overall, with a 43-25-5-3 record.
While that’s an impressive record, it pales in comparison to the Admirals, who were the class of the AHL this year at 55-18-1-2.
Norfolk finished the season with a 28-game unbeaten streak, an AHL and NHL record.
In the playoffs, the Admirals are 7-3.
During the regular season, Norfolk was 3-1 against St. John’s, splitting a November series at Mile One Centre, winning 6-2 and following up with a 3-1 loss.
At the Scope in late March, the IceCaps lost 2-0 and 2-1, but the IceCaps were without the services of Machacek, King, Rosa, Eddie Pasquale, Paul Postma, Brett Festerling, Derek Meech, Maxime Macenauer and Ben Maxwell.
Also, Jason Jaffray suffered his season-ending neck injury in the first game of the two-game set.
Norfolk’s super rookie, Cory Conacher, was named the league’s MVP and top rookie and leading the AHL with 39 goals.
Mark Barberio was the AHL’s top defenceman after finishing 17th overall in league scoring, and Jon Cooper was named the league’s top coach.
“Their record speaks for itself,” King said of the IceCaps’ opponent, “but in saying that, I think we’re two evenly-matched teams.
“We’ve been saying all season we’re a deep team, and that’s a good thing because when it comes to the playoffs, you have to be deep. You have to have your third and fourth lines just as good as your first and second.
“We’re fortunate we’ve been like that all season. We haven’t had one line that dominates. We have four lines that can go all the time.
“They’re a team who are definitely going to rely on their first two lines more than we will, so we’re going to take advantage of that.”
The Admirals’ top-scoring trio is comprised of Alexandre Picard and Alex Killorn — the top two scorers in the post season — and Richard Panik.
Jaroslav Janus and Dustin Tokarski — the latter led the AHL with 32 wins — have been splitting the goaltending chores.