Already knocked out of the playoff picture, IceCaps lose their last home game of the season
Members of the St. John’s Ice Caps salute their fans following the last home game of the American Hockey League season Sunday at Mile One Centre. The Ice Caps lost 5-4 in overtime to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
The St. John’s IceCaps lost well over 400 man games to injuries, their top two defencemen were promoted to the Winnipeg Jets when the lockout ended, and a number of pivotal players languished through prolonged slumps in this doomed American Hockey League season.
Take your pick as to why the IceCaps will be on the outside looking in when the Calder Cup playoffs open in the next couple of weeks, but team captain Jason Jaffray can’t help but ask ‘what if’ after the IceCaps were officially iced over the weekend with a pair of losses to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Mile One Centre.
The Pens posted a 3-0 win Saturday night which officially dashed any hopes of a playoff berth for St. John’s, and with nothing but pride on the line for the home side Sunday afternoon, Chad Kolarik disappointed IceCaps faithful with a goal 2:09 into overtime, his third on the evening, for a 5-4 Penguins’ win.
Jason King, the IceCaps’ leading goal scorer last season, was limited to only nine games this year because of a concussion. Speedy John Albert made only 24 starts because of neck/back problems. Patrice Cormier had knee surgery, which kept him from the lineup, and he is likely out for the remainder of the season because of concussion. Newcomer Hunter Tremblay was also felled by a concussion, appearing in only 17 games.
When the lockout ended, Paul Postma, the reigning St. John’s MVP and top defenceman, was summoned to Winnipeg, along with all-star Zach Redmond. When Redmond suffered that awful cut to his leg in practice, St. John’s minute-muncher Derek Meech was called up as a reinforcement.
Back in St. John’s, Aaron Gagnon was languishing through a horrific 18-game streak without a single point to start the year (Gagnon didn’t score his first goal until Feb. 16). Spencer Machacek, the IceCaps’ leading scorer last season, was minus-23 with 11 goals when he was traded last month. Carl Klingberg, with 10 goals this season, is quickly sliding off the Jets’ prospect depth chart. Ben Maxwell, though he’s been playing very well of late, had only one goal through his first 30 games. And Maxime Macenauer, who appeared in 29 games with the Anaheim Ducks last season, is minus-26 this year with 11 goals.
“It’s not just the injuries, but injuries to key guys,” Jaffray said following Sunday’s home ice finale. “The chemistry I had with Aaron Gagnon and Jason King last year … if we had to have that line combined with Eric O’Dell’s line for 80 or 85 per cent of the season, things might have been little different.
“And it’s a team game, so you can’t point fingers at guys. I had a stretch of 10 games that no matter what I touched, I couldn’t put a puck in the net.
“Everybody struggled, especially through that stretch quarter of the way through the season when we couldn’t get anything going. Those are the games you need to win because they get a lot tougher at the end of the year.”
The season started out with much promise for the IceCaps, who reached the Eastern Conference final last season.
Among the newcomers brought into the fold were Derek Whitmore, who had registered 28 and 27 goals the previous two years in the AHL, and Brian Sutherby, a veteran of 460 NHL games.
But getting those two into the lineup proved to be a major challenge with the veteran rule and a full roster. And wouldn’t you know it, after Sutherby was released and Whitmore bolted for Germany, the injuries began piling up.
“You can point the finger at a 100 different things,” Jaffray said.
There will be big changes to the St. John’s roster next season. A number of players are due to become restricted free agents and while some — like leading scorer Eric O’Dell — will be given qualifying offers, others will not.
Jaffray will be an unrestricted free agent, has had casual discussions with St. John’s general manager Craig Heisinger. The captain makes it very clear he would like to come back to St. John’s.
“You go to a Tim Hortons,” he said, “or you’re walking down the street and little kids are pulling you aside and wanting an autograph. That means the world to me.
“Playing in Canada, and in a great community like St. John’s, I mean, it’s something you have to love. That’s all you have say about that.”