Well, so much for that idea.
Imagine, we could all muse just last week, if St. John’s and Toronto could hook up in the Calder Cup championship series? An all-Canadian final, pitting little ol’ St. John’s taking on big, bad TO. The whole Maple Leafs’ history in St. John’s dredged up all over again.
A series that would have had St. John’s on wheels …
And then the wheels fell off.
Post mortem underway
Seconds after the final buzzer sounded Tuesday, mercifully putting the undermatched St. John’s IceCaps out of their misery against a superlative Norfolk Admirals, the post mortem was underway.
The truth is, the IceCaps were all but doomed after failing to generate anything close to resembling an offensive attack in the early going Tuesday night, when St. John’s enjoyed six minutes of man-advantage hockey, thanks to a double minor by Cory Conacher and another tripping penalty to Conacher 45 seconds after he left the penalty box.
Then Evan Oberg smacked the puck past Eddie Pasquale for a 1-0 Norfolk lead.
After that, things were quickly shaping up to be a facsimile of last Thursday night’s Game 1, when the Admirals took the IceCaps to school in a 6-1 rout.
Instead, it finished 4-0, same as the 4-0 playoff series win for the Admirals, who are headed to their first Calder Cup in the 22-year history of the AHL in Virginia.
On a night the Mile One faithful — 6,287 strong, again — used their hands and feet to say so long to the blue and white, you couldn’t help but think it was the IceCaps’ hands — cold hands — that led to their playoff demise.
Consider this: Jason King had only two goals in 15 playoff games. Patrice Cormier? Three goals. And Brock Trotter, the alleged playoff performer, brought in to boost the IceCaps’ post season chances? Not a point in the last six playoff contests (though he did, in fairness, play well against Syracuse, and early on against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton).
And Aaron Gagnon, who had a pair of goals in Game 7 of the second-round series against the Penguins? Held off the scoresheet in the final.
And what about Carl Klingberg, the rookie who had a point in every other game during the regular season? He finished the year on a 17-game scoring drought, then potted only one in the playoffs.
Klingberg closed out his season watching the final two games from the press box, a healthy scratch.
Require more evidence of the power outage? Against Norfolk, the IceCaps were outscored 14-2. Their power play was a miserable one-for-25.
The Admirals’ goaltender, Dustin Tokarski, went the final 158 minutes and nine seconds without allowing a goal.
“We were getting opportunities,” said King, the IceCaps’ de facto captain with Jason Jaffray on the sidelines. “We probably weren’t getting great quality opportunities, but the fact is we didn’t bury them, plain and simple.
“It was frustrating, no question. There was a bunch of us probably over-thinking, gripping the stick a little too tight. When you get those chances, you have to make them count. That’s the reality of it.”
This was shaping up to be quite the season for IceCaps hockey, a year in which whispers of a repeat of 1991-92, when another first-year AHL team from St. John’s went to the championship final.
For much of the year, the IceCaps were atop the Eastern Conference. Eddie Pasquale, who would become the darling of the Mile One occupants, emerged from third-string backup to front-line starter.
And we spoke of their depth, of the fact there was no real first line with this bunch, but a whole gaggle of players who could come with the big goal on any given night.
That depth got real shallow against the Admirals.
Of course, it didn’t help matters that Spencer Machecek, the team’s leading scorer during the season, missed the series against Norfolk after injuring his groin and lower abdominal muscle in Game 7 against the Penguins.
It was hard enough for fans to watch, so imagine Machacek, who had barely missed a game in four years, watching from atop … and wondering?
“It was very difficult. Too difficult. We just couldn’t get that one bounce to open the flood gates,” he said.
“I know the guys put it all out there.”
Machacek wasn’t the only injured IceCap. Arturs Kulda, on a sore ankle, wouldn’t have played in the regular season. Brett Festerling had a banged up shoulder. There was an assortment of other maladies.
“You need guys to stay healthy,” coach Keith McCambridge said. “Losing our captain (Jaffray) in Norfolk (during the regular season) was a big hit, same as losing Machacek in Game 7.
“There are a lot of things that need to fall into place (to enjoy playoff success). Those things start to crumble away with losing these pieces of the puzzle.”
Yup, and it really starts to fall apart when those left behind suddenly forget where the net is.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org