Sophomore success

Robin
Robin Short
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Restricted free agent Eric O’Dell enjoying breakout season with IceCaps, leads team in scoring

St. John's IceCaps captain Jason Jaffray tries to gain position in front of Toronto Marlies’ goaltender Garrett Sparkes as blueliner Korbinian Holzer (5) defends during the teams’ game Saturday night. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

There’s no asterisk — yet — adjacent to their name in the Eastern Conference standings indicating the St. John’s IceCaps are mathematically excluded from the American Hockey League’s post season, but with seven games to play and 11 points from the Calder Cup playoff dance, even those within the IceCaps’ locker room have to be resigned to the inevitable.

Well, maybe not everyone ...

“I think about it a little,” Eric O’Dell was saying Saturday night in response to a reporter’s query about his impending free agent status — granted, he’s restricted — but, “right now I’m just focusing on trying to make the playoffs.”

O’Dell might want to peer through a pair of binoculars if he hopes to see this year’s post season on the horizon, but credit to the 22-year-old from Ottawa — and the IceCaps, for that matter — as he is playing like someone not quite ready to mail it in just yet.

The slick pivot scored twice Saturday, his team-leading 27th and 28th goals, in the IceCaps’ 4-2 loss to the Toronto Marlies at Mile One, a game which followed a one-goal, one-assist night Friday, a 3-2 overtime win for the Marlies.

The pair of losses by St. John’s, their 17th and 18th on home ice this season, drop the IceCaps to 29-34-2-4. The Marlies also snapped a four-game St. John’s win streak (the IceCaps were winners of six of seven games entering the two-game set).

While Toronto stymied the St. John’s attack, O’Dell came out with guns ablazin’, which is something IceCaps’ fans are kind of getting accustomed to these days.

In his last 10 games, the former Sudbury Wolves junior has 18 points. His team-leading 50 points is good enough for 20th overall in the AHL and his total matches Spencer Machacek’s team record for individual points in a single season set last year.

Pretty good for a kid who got a huge scare in the spring of 2010 when a hole in his heart was discovered. Surgeons in Ottawa fixed the problem by inserting a small piece of mesh through an artery in his leg all the way up to his heart, where it was placed over the hole, the idea being that tissue would grow over the mesh and provide a permanent patch.

O’Dell returned to the Wolves in mid-December, 2010 and picked up where he left off, registering 20 goals and 44 points in 39 games.

Last season, his first as a pro, O’Dell had 12 goals and 22 points in St. John’s, also in 39 starts.

He went through lengthy periods in the press box last year, dressing in only one of the IceCaps’ first 11 games, and greeting the New Year as a healthy scratch for nine straight games.

However, he provided a glimpse of what would come in the IceCaps’ last two regular season home games with three goals and two goals in a split with Springfield.

“We knew he was an offensive guy,” said St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge. “This year, when he was getting icetime, you could see there was definitely some offensive upside to his game.

“Did I think he would come close to the 30-goal mark this season? I was hopeful. He’s definitely making a strong push for a guy who was on the outside as a prospect in terms of knocking on the door to a callup, to a guy who is now on the inside for a callup.

“He is a young player who is a smart player with good hockey IQ.”

O’Dell and linemate Kael Mouillierat, a December callup from the ECHL, have been bright spots in what’s otherwise been a dark IceCaps season. Mouillierat has also been red-hot of late, with 11 points in his last 10 games.

One of the reasons for his spike in production, O’Dell said, lies in the fact he relishes a leadership role, despite the fact he’s only a second-year pro.

“Coming in as a rookie, I was watching the leaders on the team and trying to learn from them,” he said. “And when I got my opportunity to play, I just worked hard. Now I’m getting more minutes and playing on the power play and I’m making the most of it.

“I don’t have a letter on my jersey this year, but when I’m on the ice or in the room, I’m trying to get the team going and get key goals.”

Drafted 39th overall in 2008, O’Dell has decent size (6-0, 185 pounds), good vision and the smarts to play the game. If there might be one question mark, it could be his quickness, though McCambridge dismisses any such notions.

“For a second-year pro, he’s at a good level where he’s continuing to develop and continuing to work on his speed. I don’t see any issues with his speed in the games we’ve watched all year,” McCambridge said.

O’Dell tipped Ben Chiarot’s point shot past Marlies’ goalie Garret Sparkes, making his pro debut, just 3:27 after the opening faceoff Saturday, but that’s the only lead the IceCaps would enjoy.

Rookie defenceman Stuart Percy scored two minutes later and Spencer Abbott provided the Marlies with their first lead 2:05 into the second period.

Kenny Ryan got the game-winner 1:07 following the Abbott tally. O’Dell and Greg Scott, into an empty net, traded third-period goals.

Sparkes, who appeared in 60 of 68 games for the OHL’s Guelph Storm this season, stopped 23 of the 25 shots the IceCaps managed for his first pro win.

Eddie Pasquale was solid in the St. John’s net with 30 saves and a third-star nod.

Friday, Scott emerged from the penalty box after picking up a minor penalty in regulation time and fired a shot past Mark Dekanich in overtime to give Toronto a 3-2 overtime win.

The goal ruined an outstanding 40-save effort by Dekanich.

Ryan Lasch and Jesse Blacker also scored for the winners, who got a 23-save effort from Drew MacIntyre.

The IceCaps now get ready for two games against the Portland Pirates Tuesday and Wednesday at Mile One. The Pirates recently signed Goulds native James Melindy to an amateur tryout following completion of his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season.

Melindy, a Phoenix Coyotes’ third-round draft pick last season (88th overall), has yet to make his pro debut with the Pirates.

 

rshort@thetelegram.com

Twitter@TelyRobinShort

 

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