After missing all but five games last season, Mark Dekanich is anxious to get back in the blue paint and push incumbent goaltender Eddie Pasquale for playing time in the St. John’s IceCaps nets this year.
Dekanich, the 26-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C. was signed to a one-year, free agent contract by the Winnipeg Jets over the summer.
The 2011-12 campaign was a write-off for Dekanich, who went 1-2-1 for the American Hockey League’s Springfield Falcons before he was shelved by an ankle injury.
Dekanich said he was initially misdiagnosed with a high ankle sprain before undergoing surgery in Columbus, Ohio last February to have his right ankle, “basically reconstructed.
“There was more damage on the other side, and nobody knew about it,” he said Sunday, less than 24 hours before the IceCaps were set to open training camp at Corner Brook’s Pepsi Centre.
“There was another ligament that was torn. The doctors went in on both sides and tightened up all the ligaments that were damaged.
“It was really tough finding out that I was basically playing on one leg last year.”
Dekanich, along with fellow free agent Derek Whitmore, a 28-goal scorer with the AHL’s Rochester Americans last season, enters the St. John’s training camp as a wild card this season.
He was signed by the NHL’s Blue Jackets as a free agent in the summer of 2011, with hopes of pushing Steve Mason for the No. 1 job in Columbus.
The contract came on the heals of a superb 2010-11 AHL campaign, when he led the league with a .931 save percentage and finished third amongst goaltenders with a 2.02 goals against average with the Milwaukee Admirals. Milwaukee is the AHL affiliate for the Nashville Predators, who selected Dekanich in the fifth round, 145th overall out of Colgate University in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
And then came the injury.
“It was awful,” he said, “the worst season of my life.
“I was on the couch for two and a half months,” he said. “Then I was in a walking cast and on crutches for another month, and after that I was into a brace for another couple of weeks.
“It was pretty intensive rehab. It was a major, major surgery. But it feels great now and I’m thankful that it was something that could be fixed.”
Dekanich signed with the Winnipeg Jets over the summer with hopes of pushing Al Montoya for the backup job to Andrej Pavelac.
Montoya, a former sixth overall draft pick, struggled last year with the New York Islanders, going 9-11-5 with an .893 save percentage.
“There were a few teams interested, but I wanted to go somewhere where I’d have a chance to make the big team, or, if not, get some games in the minors,” he said.
Given the NHL lockout, Dekanich is slated to start the season in St. John’s, meaning incumbent Eddie Pasquale had better be looking over his shoulder.
Pasquale was named to the AHL’s all-rookie team last season after going 21-11-1 and posting a 2.36 GAA.
“I haven’t seen him play, but you can tell by the stats he’s a great goalie,” Dekanich said of Pasquale.
“I’m just happy to be on the ice again, at a training camp,” he said. “I feel great. I feel I’m in that form of a couple of years ago, or better.
“I’ve trained really hard and I’m ready for a new start.”