Strange the difference a month can make on the pro hockey circuit.
Last month, Keith McCambridge had as many as 24 healthy bodies available from which to choose a lineup, making for some tough decisions for the St. John’s IceCaps coach.
The glut of players prompted veteran Derek Whitmore, who was on a professional tryout contract with the team following a 28-goal 2011-12 campaign with the Rochester Americans, to head overseas to Germany.
Now, with the surging Springfield Falcons (12-4-1-3 and tied for first in the Eastern Conference standings) hitting town for a pair of games tonight (7:30 p.m., Rogers TV, 930AM) and Saturday and Mile One Centre, McCambridge has been forced to summon two more reinforcements from the ECHL.
One of those players might sound a little familiar to IceCaps fans. South Carolina Stingrays captain Shawn Weller appeared in 41 games with the IceCaps last season. Also signed to a PTO was fellow forward Kael Mouillierat.
“I know him, I know what he brings, I know what he represents on the ice and off,” McCambridge said of Weller, who had 10 goals and 14 assists during his time in St. John’s last season.
Mouillierat appeared in 44 games with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers last season, picking up eight goals and 15 assists.
“His coach (Brad Ralph) likes the way he’s playing,” McCambridge said of the Edmonton native. “Our scouting staff which goes out and rates these ECHL teams rates him pretty high.”
Weller and Mouillierat join Joey Sides in St. John’s. Sides was recalled from the Colorado Eagles, the Winnipeg Jets’ ECHL affiliate, last week and has appeared in two AHL games.
The IceCaps overlooked Ray Kaunisto for recall a second time despite the fact the Colorado player is under contract by the Jets. Kaunisto played in the AHL the past two seasons with the Manchester Monarchs, scoring seven goals and 15 assists last season.
“Weller and Mouillierat are more first and second line guys and Kaunisto, with no disrespect to him, is more of a third and fourth line guy,” McCambridge said.
“I kind of have that balance already. I’m looking for a replacement for Jaffray and King and Cormier.”
Team captain Jason Jaffray is the latest to go down, joining Jason King, Patrice Cormier, Alex Burmistrov, Eric O’Dell, Hunter Tremblay, John Albert and Travis Ramsey in IceCaps’ infirmary.
Jaffray hurt his shoulder on his second-last shift Saturday night in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pa.. On Thursday, he practised for the first time since being hurt, but was wearing a red no-contact jersey. He will not play this weekend.
Burmistrov is also out for the weekend series with the Falcons as he is being treated for an undisclosed injury (suspected to be shoulder) in Winnipeg. Tests this week showed nothing abnormal, but the Jets are keeping the locked-out NHLer in Winnipeg for a week while they reassess him.
King has been out with concussion-like symptoms, and was making progress, participating in full practice Tuesday and Wednesday. But the veteran from Corner Brook suffered a setback Wednesday night and was skating in red Thursday. His status for the weekend is unknown.
Cormier, who has started only three games this season before being sidelined by knee surgery, was cleared for contact in practice this week. Cormier had a setback Thursday, although there’s a hope he may play in one of the two games against the Falcons.
Either way, Cormier is ahead of schedule. It was originally thought the robust forward from New Brunswick would be ready until after Christmas.
Albert is also in Winnipeg getting checked out by Jets doctors. The fleet forward has nerve trouble in his back, and has experienced numbness when he takes a hit. Albert has been shut down for four weeks.
Tremblay is also experiencing concussion-like symptoms, and there is no timeline for his return.
O’Dell (ankle) and Ramsey (broken finger) skated Thursday in red. O’Dell may suit up for one game, but Ramsey will be a scratch.
“It always works that way,” McCambridge said.
“Whitmore decides to go to Europe, and all of a sudden you go from large numbers to having to call up players.
“But that’s just the way it is with this game. You can carry 10 extra guys for a month or two and not have an injury, and then when guys start going elsewhere, all of a sudden you’re looking for players. Never fails.”