Whitmore and Sutherby feel IceCaps are best fit on their roads to the NHL
One is a bigger player who likes to play an aggressive, physical game. The other is on the smallish side, but a finisher, a player who wants the puck on his stick with the game on the line.
Brian Sutherby and Derek Whitmore bring two very different skill sets to the ice, but the two veterans offer a delicious option for coach Keith McCambridge when the time comes to pencil in his St. John’s IceCaps lineup for a new American Hockey League season.
Sutherby, 30, and Whitmore, 27, are at the IceCaps’ training camp on professional tryout contracts, arriving in Corner Brook under two very different scenarios.
Sutherby is coming off back surgery to repair a herniated disc, an injury that limited him to just 15 games with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage last year.
Whitmore’s story is a bit different. He’s one of those players affected by the NHL lockout, in that the Buffalo Sabres, the organization for which he played the past number of years, opted to hold roster spots in the American league for youngsters such as St. John’s native Luke Adam.
Older players, like Whitmore, were out of luck.
Both Sutherby and Whitmore were looking for work when the Winnipeg Jets came along offering tryouts.
And it’s not like these two are fourth-line role players.
Sutherby, the 26th overall pick in the 2000 NHL draft, has 460 NHL games punched in with Washington, Anaheim and Dallas.
Whitmore has been one of the AHL’s better goalscorers the past two years, registering 28 and 27 tallies with his hometown Rochester Americans.
Whitmore, in fact, has improved his goalscoring totals every year since turning pro in 2008 after four years of college at Bowling Green.
Now, while the IceCaps had no trouble scoring last season — St. John’s was fifth overall in the AHL in that department — it was done moreso on a scoring-by-committee basis than left to a handful of players.
Jason King, with 22, topped the IceCaps in goals last season.
“I noticed Kinger was the only guy to hit the 20-goal mark,” Whitmore said Monday, the first official day of the IceCaps’ training camp. “At the same time, there was production up and down the lineup, contributions from everywhere.
“You can’t not look at that stuff. You want to see where you stack up. And I would think they brought me in here to be a goalscorer.”
Whitmore terms his PTO with St. John’s a bit of a, “safety net.”
If the lockout ends tomorrow, and he’s offered a contract by another team, Whitmore is free to walk away from St. John’s, after Winnipeg is given the right to match if the Jets so choose.
“There are a lot of good hockey players not signed and not playing,” he said, “so I’m very thankful and fortunate to be here at camp.
“I’m here to earn a job, and prove to them they should keep me for the whole year.”
If Whitmore had a taste of the NHL last season — he appeared in two games for the Sabres — Sutherby has feted at the big league buffet for a while now.
But now it’s back to lunch packs as he tries to regain the form that made him an NHL regular not that long ago.
Or, perhaps more to the point, figures out if his surgically-repaired back can withstand the grind.
“I’m feeling good,” he said after the IceCaps’ 40-man roster went through a series of physicals and medicals Monday morning.
“It was basically a lost year last season, but I’ve made a lot of progress after the surgery.
“Tough as it was to sit out a full year, it was the best thing for me. I tried to play through it, but that only made it worse.”
Sutherby skated at Perry Pearn’s camp in his native Edmonton over the summer. Pearn, the long-time NHL assistant coach, was just hired by Winnipeg as an assistant to Claude Noel, but Sutherby said there was no connection between he and the Jets.
“There weren’t a lot of offers, to be honest,” he said. “There were a few teams, but I felt this was a good fit for me and I’m hoping to stick here.
“And when the lockout ends, the goal is to get back to the NHL.”
If Sutherby does make the IceCaps, he might be reminiscent of Aaron Gavey, an NHL veteran who was on the downside of his career when he joined the St. John’s Maple Leafs in 2002-03.
Gavey was 28, with 360 NHL games under his belt when he played a full season in St. John’s, providing leadership, grit and the odd goal (14).
“I’m going to play hard-nosed, and I’m going to play a two-way game,” Sutherby said. “I play an honest game.”