Providence, R.I.—It’s no easy matter to gather players from all over the American Hockey League, then in the space of less than 24 hours, bring them to a single rallying point for the league’s annual All-Star Classic.
So when the travel logistics for this week’s all-star event in Providence were being hashed out, there had been some consideration to having St. John’s IceCaps’ defenceman Derek Meech, the team’s lone All-Star representative, travel by limo on Sunday with the four all-stars from the Syracuse Crunch, who were the IceCaps’ regular-season opponent in a game in Syracuse, N.Y., on Saturday night.
It didn’t happen as the IceCaps eventually decided to arrange for Meech to fly to Providence.
But considering the happenings of Saturday — when Syracuse prevailed 6-3 in a contest featuring a second-period line brawl and a goalie fight — that limo drive sounded like it could have been interesting.
Or would it have been?
When asked about it, Meech suggested a scenario more like those old Looney Tunes cartoons featuring Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog, where after a full day of Ralph attempting to steal sheep and Sam thwarting every move — often through physical force — they simply punch their time cards, have a friendly chat (“Good night, Sam ... Good night, Ralph”) and head home where they rest before doing it all again the next day.
“It would have been alright,” said Meech about a shared ride as he spoke during a media availability prior to Sunday’s All-Stars Skills Competition.
“It was obviously a hard-fought game with a little bit of old-time hockey mixed in there. But once you’re done with the game, it’s kind of a case where you leave everything that happened on the ice.
“It would have been fine (to travel with the Crunch).”
Saturday’s big brawl came with a little less than six minutes gone in the second period and St. John’s leading 3-2.
The trigger was big hit by Crunch rearguard Dmitry Korobov on St. John’s captain Jason Jaffray. Ray Sawada, Jaffray’s linemate, attempted to chase down Korobov, but Syracuse’s J.F. Jacques intervened and soon there were five pairs of players squared off on the ice.
Then it was six pairs, as the goalies joined the fray.
The IceCaps’ Eddie Pasquale and the Crunch’s Dustin Tokarski — after some long distance signals — skated from their creases to the middle of the ice and began non-verbal communication of another kind.
When it was over, 70 minutes in penalties were handed out, including 27 to Pasquale — a two-minute minor for leaving his crease, five for fighting and two game misconducts, one for involvement in a secondary fight and the other for having his jersey come off during the scrap.
Syracuse went on to tie the game later in the middle frame, and then got what would stand to be the winning goal from Alex Killorn on a power play early in the third.
Kael Mouillierat, Patrice Cormier and Dean Arsene scored for St. John’s (19-22-3), which finished a six-game road trip with three wins and three losses, one in a shootout.
Saturday’s result leaves the IceCaps four points out of a playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
Killorn scored twice and added an assist, while Richard Panik had a goal and two assists for Syracuse (25-10-6).
Panik will be one of the Crunch participants in today’s All-Star Game, joining Radko Gudas, Tyler Johnson and Mark Barberio.
J.T. Wyman and Jean-Philippe Cote also had goals for Syracuse.
Pasquale made 14 saves on 16 shots for St. John’s. After his ejection, he was replaced by Mark Dekanich, who allowed three goals on 25 shots. It was the first action for Dekanich after recovering from a hamstring injury.
Tokarski, who was given the heave-ho along with Pasquale, stopped 15 of the 18 shots he faced. Riku Helenius finished up for Syracuse, providing shutout work the rest of the way.
“We were working hard all the game, but some of the decision-making wasn’t what it was supposed to be and we took a couple of untimely penalties,” said Meech. “It took a lot of momentum away for us.
“Especially in the last game of a road trip, where you’re leading in the second period, you like to think you can hold on to that lead.
“But all in all, I thought it was a pretty good road trip.”
St. John’s, which began the weekend with a 3-1 win over the Hershey Bears Friday, begins a six-homestand Friday, when the Binghamton Senators provide the opposition at Mile One Centre.
The Crunch and IceCaps have two games remaining — in early March at Mile One. Even though the teams aren’t divisional rivals, there’s every reason to expect them to be gritty affairs.
And while contempt might be too strong a word to describe their feelings about each other, familiarity has definitely been a factor in whatever emotion is brought to their meetings.
The Crunch are Tampa Bay’s farm team, which last year played out of Norfolk, Va., as the Admirals, rolling all the way to the Calder Cup, a championship path that included a sweep of the IceCaps in the Eastern Conference final.
The teams also have met, in consecutive years, in three-game exhibition series during fall training camps in Newfoundland.
“It’s become a rivalry, that’s for sure,” said Meech.
Syracuse head coach Jon Cooper, who is part of the Eastern Conference All-Star coaching staff here in Providence, couldn’t agree more.
“The one thing that makes rivalries is when you play teams in the playoffs. You add in that we played (the IceCaps) in the pre-season, and then have had hard-fought games in the regular season, I think we knew each other pretty well,” said Cooper.
“The thing that takes a little bit of sting out of all of that is that we’re in Syracuse now. It takes a little bit away, because everybody in Syracuse says, ‘Your rivals should be Rochester and Binghamton,’ but we’re thinking, having come from Norfolk, ‘No, no, it’s St. John’s, it’s Wilkes-Barre.’
“It’s weird how the jersey affects the mindset, but for us, St. John’s is a rival for sure.
“I think the way both teams battled (Saturday) proves that.”