The American Hockey League standings provided by the wire services daily show the league in its divisional format, but just over halfway though their season, the St. John’s IceCaps and their fans have little reason to pay attention to that statistical setup.
Where the IceCaps sit in the Atlantic Division (they are in last place today) doesn’t matter unless you believe St. John’s can climb all the way back up into first place in the Atlantic and earn the top-three seed that comes with it.
Now, the IceCaps are certainly not mathematically eliminated from that possibility, but with 11 points between them and the division-leading Portland Pirates and three other teams between Portland and St. John’s, it makes for a tricky equation.
That means the IceCaps must be considered only in terms of their standing in the AHL’s Eastern Conference, which, heading into tonight’s game in Hershey against the Bears, has them in 13th place.
The top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs — with the three division winners getting the top seeds regardless of their points total.
The good news is St. John’s (18-21-3) is just four points behind the eighth-place Bears, making tonight’s contest that much more crucial.
The bad news is that same kind of story about in-between teams. The IceCaps must climb over or through four of them in order to have a playoff position. As any jockey will tell you, chasing down a horse where there is nothing but empty track between you and him is much easier than when four more are galloping in front of you.
A more minor problem is that just about every other team has games in hand on St. John’s.
The IceCaps have done OK of late. Even with their 3-0 loss in what, from all accounts, was a pretty uninspiring game in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Wednesday night, they are 3-1-1 in their last five outings.
However, they will pretty much need to keep up the same pace if they are to stay in the playoff hunt.
It may only be January,
but St. John’s needs to treat the rest of the schedule as a stretch run. No dog days for the IceCaps, unless they are pulling a sled.
Usually, at this point, the suggestion will be that a team’s big test in this regard will come on the road, but for St. John’s, whose record at Mile One Centre is 7-11-1, the worst of any home team in the league, things are just the opposite.
After tonight’s matchup in Hershey and a Saturday game in Syracuse, N.Y., the IceCaps head back to Mile One to begin the first of three six-game homestands that will complete their regular-season home schedule.
If they can’t, at the very minimum, win two of every three of their remaining home games — in other words, basically reverse their Mile One record to date — an already-tough situation will take on the consistency of Fido’s chew toy — hard to gnaw on, and for fans, near impossible to swallow.
Each and every day, St. John’s is taking on more of the look of a big city. But at its core, it’s still very much a small town.
And so, there has hardly been a conversation I have had this week, especially with people within the local sports and media communities, that hasn’t included the question, posed to me, “What happened with Donnie?”
That would be Don Power, who this week was officially replaced as the director of communications for the IceCaps.
This is not a commentary on the thinking behind this decision. That would be improper because the exact whyfor of the move has not been spelled out. In fact, in the release announcing that Dave Salter has taken over the job, there was no mention of his predecessor or the reason for the change.
Off the record, we have heard things like “a need for reorientation of the position,” and “a switch in direction.”
But if you are looking for a real sense of what took place, perhaps a parallel can be found in another mid-season move in the AHL this week, one that saw Ron “Dog” Wilson, a long-time and respected coach in the league, fired as the assistant bench boss of the Hamilton Bulldogs, over what head coach Sylvain Lefebvre called “philosophical differences.”
Let’s call it that, then, because there is not a person within the IceCaps’ organization, from top to bottom, who will not say that Don Power worked long, hard and well for the team.
He was highly regarded by the players, coaches, his co-workers and officials of visiting clubs. He did nothing egregious or flagrant. There is nothing nefarious here. He did not rob the till or desecrate the logo.
So, if you are looking for grounds for dismissal, you will find only dust. This appears, for whatever the rationale, simply to be a decision to make a change, something that falls within management’s right to manage, which must be accepted, and something that often happens because of executive prerogative, which must be acknowledged.
It’s just that in this case, it was a change that affected a good man, one who had been working for a hockey team and now is in the not-easy position of looking for work in the middle of a hockey season.
Here, perhaps, is the place to note that I have known Donnie Power for a quarter century and that we have been co-workers. I consider him a friend. (For that matter, I know I can say the same about Dave Salter.)
This is done partly to satisfy any perceived need for a conflict of interest of statement, but also as a lead-in to this final point:
Despite that aforementioned relationship (I actually like to think maybe because of it), there was no attempt to slant or skew a story, no favours proffered or requested. And there never was an instance of inside info being slipped the Tely’s way.
You might think an old friend might be a little P.O’d about that latter fact. Just the opposite, however.
Donnie played it straight and that earns a lot of respect from this corner.