Spencer Machacek smiled when it was suggested those fans who took in Tuesday’s AHL game between the St. John’s IceCaps and Portland Pirates would be talking just about as much about his first-period fight with the Pirates’ Chris Brown as the two goals he scored in what would turn out to be a wild 8-7 win for St. John’s.
“We’re in Newfoundland, right? So for sure,” said Machacek, who after one season playing in St. John’s, is well aware for the local affinity for rough-and-tumble hockey.
They also like scoring and Machacek provides that, too. Last season, he led St. John’s in points, with 50 in 61 games on 18 goals and 32 assists. And heading into Wednesday’s rematch against the Pirates at Mile One, he was on top of the team scoring list again with five points (3G, 2A) in five games.
Tuesday’s tilt was Machacek’s second fight this year; he tangled with Cullen Eddy of the Adirondack Phantoms in the IceCaps’ season-opening home series last weekend.
But that frequency of fisticuffs — two in a three weeks — by his team’s top scorer does not concern St. John’s head coach Keith McCambridge.
Just the opposite, in fact.
“That’s the way Spence plays. He’s hard to play against. He’s gritty. He’s got to be physical, and on top of that, he can score goals,” said McCambridge.
“Obviously, I don’t want the trade-off that sees him going with a guy who plays two or three minutes (a game) for the other team. But he’s played long enough to get reads on when he should be doing that and when he shouldn’t and he does a good job with that.”
“And he’s smart enough to know if we need a potential momentum boost, if he wants to be the guy to take that on his shoulders, he’s more than capable.”
When it comes to fighting totals, Machacek isn’t close too those of his coach when the latter patrolled bluelines in the AHL; there were a couple of seasons when McCambridge dropped the gloves around 30 times. Still, Machacek is in the “more than a few” territory. Last season, he had five fights in total — two during the regular season with St. John’s, one during a 13-game stint with the parent Winnipeg Jets and, maybe most surprisingly, two in the playoffs.
“I don’t go looking for it, they just kind of happen, no grudges or anything (pre-planned),” said Machacek.
“I play hard and try to finish all my checks and sometimes that stuff just happens.”
He says that was the case in his encounter with Brown Tuesday.
“We just kind of tangled up and I saw him drop his gloves and you don’t stop to think about it,” said the six-foot-one, 200-pound right-winger. “It was just a kind of harmless play that turned into something.”
If not for the NHL lockout, there’s a real good chance Machacek would be playing with the Jets this fall. He was re-signed as a restricted free agent in the off-season and left a good impression during his time in Winnipeg in 2011-12, including his conduct in that one big-league fight, when he came to the defence of Jets’ rearguard Tobias Enstrom and took on Patrick Dwyer of the Carolina Hurricanes.
“I think it rounds out his game,” McCambridge of Machacek’s willingness to go. “He’s a two-way player. He can score and he’s good in his own zone.
“In the NHL, he’s going to be a third- or fourth-line guy who’s going to earn his minutes and his opportunities from those situations.”
McCambridge has never suggested to Machacek that he keep the gloves on. And when asked what would happen if a player like Alexander Burmistrov ever started getting scrappy, the coach indicated there would be no immediate prohibition.
“Different type of player, obviously,” McCambridge said of the skilled Russian winger.
“But if Alex, say, was fighting two times a game, we would sit down and have a conversation about what his thoughts are and to find out why he was playing that way and if it is beneficial to our team.”