Sawada scores winner in first game of rubber match
St. John’s IceCaps goaltender Mark Dekanich turns aside a shot from the Portland Pirates’ Andy Miele (21) as Julian Melchiori follows the play during the teams’ game at Mile One Centre on Tuesday. Dekanich stopped 30 of 32 shots against as the IceCaps won 3-2. The teams meet again tonight, 7:30, at Mile One. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Mark Dekanich was good and busy — make that very good and pretty busy — Tuesday night at Mile One Centre, making 29 saves on the Portland Pirates and one more on a teammate to lead the St. John’s IceCaps to a 3-2 American Hockey League win over the Pirates.
There’s no telling what the mood would have been like had things gone differently, but even IceCaps’ head coach Keith McCambridge, who normally plays it pretty straight in post-game media scrums, couldn’t help but joke about Dekanich’s stop on teammate Dean Arsene with less than two minutes remaining in the game, Portland on a power play and St. John’s clinging to the lead.
“We talked about getting more pucks to the net ...not to pass up shots. Dean Arsene took that to heart and thought he would add that one in the third period,” said a smiling McCambridge about the play that saw the veteran rearguard attempt to send the puck behind the net and away from traffic, but instead ended up firing it on Dekanich.
Given the score, the resulting save was appreciated by just about everyone in the building — except for the Pirates, who badly need points — but none more than Arsene, who actually gave Dekanich a thank-you pat on the head as the play continued.
“I don’t know if that’s happened to me before. That’s pretty good though,” said Dekanich, who was the game’s first star.
It was a selection based more on the quality of saves than the quantity. At least two-thirds of Dekanich’s stops Tuesday could be easily rated above-average as St. John’s improved its record over the last 11 games to 8-2-1.
Despite that recent succes and Tuesday’s win, the IceCaps’ remain in the porch that leads to elimination from playoff contention. St. John’s (30-34-6) is just a couple of losses (or a couple of Hershey or Norfolk wins) away from being officially shut out of the post-season.
“Obviously, we would have liked to have been playing like this in December or January,” said Dekanich, “but it’s not that way, and we’re trying to have fun with it and put on a show for the fans.”
Offensively, it was far from a five-star show for St. John’s Tuesday; the home side was credited with just nine shots on goal through two periods, but the scoresheet did show some balance, with one goal from youngsters, another from the IceCaps’ hot line and the third courtesy of three veterans.
The latter marker was by Ray Sawada at 12:34 of the third period, just over two minutes after the Pirates had tied the game. It came on a deflection of defenceman Travis Ramsey’s shot from the point and after hard work down low by Ramsey, Sawada and captain Jason Jaffray.
The opening goal of the game came midway through the first period and off the stick of defenceman Cody Sol. It was Sol’s first AHL tally, with forwards Matthew Kirzinger and Vinny Saponari drawing assists or their first pro points.
St. John’s No. 1 line of Eric O’Dell, Kael Mouillierat and Josh Lunden produced the other goal on a power-play in the second, Lunden driving to the net and sending a shot past Pirates’ goalie Mark Visentin after Mouilierrat brought the puck out of the corner.
O’Dell also drew an assist for his team-leading 51st point of the season, eclipsing the 50 points Spencer Machecek had to lead the IceCaps in 2011-12, their inaugural campaign.
“It’s nice to see it spread around,” said McCambridge of the scoring. “It’s nice to get that balance and get those goals ... from different aspects of your lineup.”
Phil Lane and Bredan Shinnimin scored and Visentin made 20 saves in what was a difficult result for the Pirates (38-27-5), who are still a few wins away from nailing down a playoff berth. Portland was sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference entering the game and is bound to be even more desperate when the teams meet again 7:30 tonight at Mile One.
That’s not to say the IceCaps, whose playoff incentive is disappearing, won’t be ready to counter what the Pirates bring.
“Everyone is still out here fighting for contracts for next season, so everyone is still playing hard,” said Sol. “We still have hard practices every day.
“We still like to win. Winning’s a good feeling and when we get a big win like this, it’s a little loosey-goosey,
“But we’re still serious out there.”
Notes: The IceCaps had a nice in-game tribute and fans responded with a rousing ovation for former St. John’s defenceman Zach Redmond, who took in Tuesday’s game. Redmond was in town for a brief visit before returning to Winnipeg today to continue his remarkable recovering from a lacerated artery in his leg ... Goulds native James Melindy did not play for Portland Tuesday. The 20-year-old defenceman, who was the Coyotes’ third-round pick last year, has yet to play his first pro game since joining the Pirates ... When and if Melindy does play, he’ll be wearing No. 27, the same number worn by St. John’s native John Slaney during a professional career that spanned two decades. Slaney, who once played for Portland, is in his second season as a Pirates’ assistant coach... The never-emptying IceCaps infirmary has two more bodies: centre Patrice Cormier and winger Jason Gregoire, both sidelined with concussions. That makes no less than six St. John’s players out with concussions .. For Matthew Kirzinger, who is operating on an amateur tryout deal with St. John’s and who was playing in front of his parents visiting from Saskatchewan, Tuesday’s game was his first game at Mile One ... Tuesday’s Coors Light three stars 1. Mark Dekanich, SJs 2. Maxim Gioncharov, Port 3. Ray Sawada, SJs ... Brian Rogers’ choice as the hardest-working IceCap:.Jason Jaffray...