IceCaps stay with what they know

Brendan McCarthy
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St. John’s brings back Sawada and signs three others, including veteran AHL defenceman

Ray Sawada will need that St. John’s IceCaps jersey he was carrying along with a bundle of sticks after he and other members of the IceCaps cleared out their lockers at Mile One Centre in late May. Sawada will be back in St. John’s next season after signing an AHL contract with the IceCaps. — Telegram file photo/Joe Gibbons

It’s not so common now, but “buying on approval” was once a customary practice for many retail businesses. If you admired a coat, for example, a clothing store might let you take it home and try it out, wear it for a while. If you still liked it, you bought it. If not, back to the store it went.

The Winnipeg Jets appear to be practitioners of buying on approval when it comes to their American Hockey League farm team in St. John’s.

On Thursday, after a few weeks of inactivity with regards to the IceCaps’ roster, there was a flurry of moves, as the team announced the signing of four players — forwards Ray Sawada, Joey Sides and Norm Ezekiel and defenceman Dean Arsene — to AHL contracts.

In the case of three of those players, the IceCaps/Jets have some first-hand knowledge. They have tried them on, so to speak.

Sawada, 27, was with St. John’s for a couple of months last season, having been acquired on loan from the Texas Stars at the AHL trade deadline. The burly, 6-foot-two, 205-pound winger had two goals and an assist in 17 regular-season games with the IceCaps, but had a bigger impact in the playoffs, with three goals and three assists in 15 post-season games. During his time with St. John’s, he was technically still under contract to the NHL’s Dallas Stars, but became an unrestricted free agent July 1.

“He’s at his best when he’s physical and using that size, just like he did in the playoffs,” said IceCaps’ head coach Keith McCambridge about Sawada.

Sides, 26, split last season between Europe and the Colorado Eagles, the Jets/IceCaps’ affiliate in the ECHL. He joined St. John’s in mid-April, but because he had started the season with the Heerenveen Flyers in the Netherlands and hadn’t returned to North America until February, he was ineligible to play in the AHL.

Ezekiel was signed after appearing as an invited player at the Jets’ prospects development camp in Winnipeg earlier this summer. But the organization’s scouts and officials already had a good read on the 21-year-old from the OHL’s Barrie Colts, where, for the last two years, he was a teammate of Jets’ top prospects Mark Scheifele and Ivan Telegin.

Ezekiel doesn’t bring much in the way of points (he had nine goals and 11 assists in 124 total games with the Colts) or size (he’s listed at five-foot-eight and 180 pounds). However, he does provide feistiness (he totaled 262 penalty minutes during his time in Barrie) and has shown himself to be versatile — the Jets see him as a forward, but he saw action on defence as an overage junior.

During the prospects camp, Jimmy Roy, the Jets’ director of player development described Ezekiel as “a bulldog” to the Winnipeg Sun.

Arsene hasn’t spent any time with the Jets or IceCaps, but his may turn out to be the most important signing in Thursday’s quartet of transactions.

Before Thursday, the projected 2012-13 St. John’s defensive corps had featured a couple of veterans in Derek Meech and Travis Ramsey, a sophomore pro in Zach Redmond and five rookies. For those concerned about all that inexperience, Arsene fills the prescription as a nerve-calmer.

The 32-year-old has appeared in more than AHL 500 game with Hartford, Hershey, Springfield, Peoria and Portland. He is not an offensive defenceman, having never put up more than three goals or 15 points in any one  pro season. But he is the prototypical stay-at-home, tough-in-his-own-end rearguard, with 1,115 penalty minutes and a reputation for sticking up for teammates.

What’s more, the Murrayville, B.C., native is a renowned leader — he’s been the team captain in four of his five AHL stops, the only exception being Hartford, where he played his rookie year.


Roster Reset

Players signed by the Winnipeg Jets/St. John’s IceCaps for the 2012-13 who have AHL components in their contracts:

Player    Age    2011-12 Team(s)    Contract type

Goalies (3)

Chris Carrozzi     22    Colorado/Ontario (ECHL)/St. John’s    NHL

Mark Dekanich    26    Springfield (AHL)    NHL

Eddie Pasquale    21    St. John’s    NHL


Defencemen (9)

Dean Arsene    32    Portland (AHL)    AHL

Ben Chiarot    21    Colorado (ECHL)/St. John’s    NHL        

Jake Marto    25    Colorado (ECHL)/St. John’s    AHL

Derek Meech    30    Winnipeg/St. John’s    NHL

Julian Melchiori    20    Kitchener/Oshawa (OHL)/St. John’s    NHL

Will O'Neill    24    Univ. Maine (NCAA)/St. John’s    NHL

Travis Ramsey     29    St. John’s    AHL

Zach Redmond    24    St. John’s    NHL

Cody Sol    21    Kitchener (OHL)    NHL

Forwards (16)

John Albert    23    St. John’s    AHL

Kevin Clark    24    St. John’s    AHL

Patrice Cormier    22    St. John’s    NHL

Danny Dries    21    Ohio State Univ.(NCAA)/St. John’s    AHL

Norm Ezekiel    21    Barrie (OHL)    AHL

Jason Gregoire     23    St. John’s    NHL

Jason King    30    St. John’s     AHL    

Carl Klingberg    21    St. John’s    NHL    

Maxime Macenauer    23    Anaheim (NHL)/Syracuse (AHL)/St. John’s    NHL

Ben Maxwell    24    Anaheim (NHL)/Winnipeg/St. John’s    NHL

Eric O'Dell    22    St. John’s    NHL    

Ray Sawada    27    Texas (AHL)/St. John’s    AHL    

Ryan Schnell    23    Wheeling (ECHL)/Wilkes-Barre (AHL)    AHL    

Joey Sides    26    Heerenveen (Holland)/Colorado (ECHL)    AHL    

Ivan Telegin    20    Barrie (OHL)    NHL

Hunter Tremblay    26    Oklahoma City (AHL)    AHL



• Players who played with St. John’s last season and are signed to one-way contracts with Winnipeg for 2012-13: F Aaron Gagnon, D Paul Postma

• Notable players who were with St. John’s last season and are free agents:  F Spencer Machacek (has received qualifying offer from Jets), F Jason Jaffray (unrestricted), F Garth Murray (unrestricted)

Organizations: American Hockey League, IceCaps, Winnipeg Jets NHL Texas Stars Dallas Stars NCAA

Geographic location: Winnipeg, Barrie, Europe Colorado Netherlands North America Hartford Portland Murrayville Ontario Oshawa Maine Kitchener Syracuse Wilkes-Barre Holland Oklahoma City

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