With a 28-man roster, it would appear the St. John’s IceCaps’ coaching staff would have plenty of flexibility in lineup decisions.
But we’ll remind you of that old saying about the ongoing relationship between appearances and deception.
As the IceCaps prepared for the Adirondack Phantoms Saturday night at Mile One Centre, St. John’s head coach Keith McCambridge actually could only list two healthy bodies among his eight scratches, and one of those was forced on him by the American Hockey League’s quota rules relating to official veterans, with Aaron Gagnon sitting out and Derek Whitmore suiting up for his first regular-season game with the IceCaps (2-2).
Ben Chiarot was the only other healthy scratch, allowing another young rearguard — Julian Mechiori — to draw into the lineup. That left six others not dressed for the game — which turned out to be a 4-3 Adirondack win — and all of those were either hurt or on the verge of returning to the lineup from injury. It includes centre Patrice Cormier, forced out of the IceCaps’ season-opener Friday, a 2-1 win over the Phantoms, winger Carl Klingberg, hurt in practice collison last week, defenceman Paul Postma and forwards Ray Sawada, Ryan Schnell and Jason Jaffray, all with ailments carrying over from before the start of the season.
“As you always see at this level, it goes from having large numbers to having a lot of guys on the injury side,” said McCambridge after Saturday’s game.
“And it’s a quick turnaround against Portland (the Pirates play here Tuesday and Wednesday). We’ll see how Carl is, and Corms. Jaffs is projected for the second game (against Portland) on the 24th. Postma … all those guys are day-to-day.”
Then again, in this era of pro hockey, day-to-day has a tendency to transform into week-to-week.
Take Postma, last year’s IceCaps MVP, who is dealing with what was described as a minor hamstring problem from the pre-season, but who suffered a bit of a setback last week, leaving him unavailable for the games against the Phantoms.
“It all balances out. I’ll never make excuses about missing this guy or that guy,” said McCambridge, whose team is actually facing a four-games-in-six days stretch, closing out a homestand with games against the Norfolk Admirals next Saturday and Sunday.
If you like that sort of unperturbed attitude, it can be pointed out that, as few as there are, there still are lineup choices for St. John’s. What’s more, there has been at least one player coming out of the infirmary. That’s John Albert, who played his first two games of the season on the weekend and was the same industrious player who was such a revelation as a rookie in 2011-12.
“It’s hard to find nights when he’s not your hardest-working player, or at least among the top 2,” said McCambridge about Albert, who scored the game’s first goal in Saturday’s loss.
“It’s nice to get him back in the lineup.”
Albert played on a ine with Jason Gregoire and Kevin Clark, one that might qualify as the smallest — stature-wise — ever put together by the IceCaps, but one that came up big against the Phantoms. While the St. John’s lines populated by veterans struggled for much of Saturday, the Albert-centred unit and the trio of sophomore Eric O’Dell and Russian rookie wingers Alexander Burmistrov and Ivan Telegin were revelations.
“The line of Albert, Gregoire and Clark was outstanding and I thought Burmistrov, Telegin and O’Dell played really strong,” said McCambridge. “I didn’t think the Macenauer line with Machacek and Tremblay had a very strong game and as things went along, I thought we got more out of the Maxwell, King and Whitmore line.
“You need all four lines in this league at this level and if you don’t have that, you’re going to lean heavily and (give) a lot of ice time to the lines that are going.”
Burmistrov, in particular, saw a lot of ice in the late going Saturday. In the final seconds of the game, with IceCaps goalie Eddie Pasquale on the bench for an extra attacker and Adirondack protecting its one-goal lead, it was Burmistrov, just 20, but with two full years of NHL experience, who got the puck on his stick courtesy of a well-designed delivery to the backdoor of the Phantoms’ crease.
But despite plenty of net to be had between the right post and an out-of-position netminder Scott Munroe, Burmistrov pretty much fanned on the shot.
“It’s a practice play and in practice, I usually put the puck in the net,” said Burmistrov, who is still looking for his first AHL goal.
Nevertheless, there would be few among the weekend crowds at Mile One that constituted the IceCaps’ 47th and 48th consecutive sellouts who wouldn’t describe Burmistrov as among the best, if not the best player, in the two games ... and that includes Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and the rest of the Phantoms.
“His skill level is second to none,” said McCambridge of his lockout present .
“His work ethic is second to none (although) I find with Alex what you will see, because of his background and NHL experience, he’ll try to carry the load himself where at times he might not have to do that.
“I’m still reading Alex with his personality, but I think (because he hasn’t scored for the IceCaps) he pushes a little bit more and puts himself in area with the puck he might not be if he had a couple (of goals) under his belt.”
Not that McCambridge is concerned. The IceCaps’ stats showed Burmistrov generated nine scoring chances Friday.
“He’s getting plenty of opportunities and it’s just a matter of time before things open up for him,” said the coach.
Burmistrov, who has three assists through four games, admits to being a little anxious over the zero in his goal column, but not because of personal desire.
“I think if I score on all my chances, we win every game,” he said. “You know what? If I score that goal (at the end of Saturday’s contest), it ties the game and we go into overtime. That would have been the most important thing. Not that it would have been my first goal
“That’s not that important for me. I’m here to learn how to play hockey. If I play good, I will score goals.”
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