While IceCaps struggled, Eric O’Dell flourished
While he’d prefer to continue lighting lamps for the St. John’s IceCaps in the American Hockey League playoffs, second-year centre Eric O’Dell does take some solace in the fact he enjoyed a breakout season, leading the team in scoring with 29 goals and 55 points in 59 games. — Telegram file photo
Eric O’Dell is dealing with a dilemna.
The St. John’s IceCaps’ season, which began with much promise, but was mostly coloured by disappointment, is over far earlier than O’Dell or his teammates wanted or expected.
May is still a week away and the IceCaps are already in the clew-up stage, with exit meetings and travel plans and taped-up bundles of sticks and the exchange of off-season contact info.
For the team as a whole, that’s a bummer, a shared misery.
But when asked (the question was prefaced by “Can you not be humble for a minute?”) to consider 2012-13 under a light focused on him alone, O’Dell can’t help but agree it was much better than he expected.
“In that way, yeas, I’m really happy,” said the IceCaps’ sophomore centre, who finished as the team’s leading scorer.
“I thought from Game 1, things went well. I was scoring and for the most part, I kept scoring, and let’s face it, that’s my job.
“I just wish I was still doing it right now.”
O’Dell finished with 29 goals and 55 points, both single-season highs for the two-year-old IceCaps. And that points total — 20th best in the American Hockey League this season — came in just 59 games. A foot injury sidelined him for nearly five weeks leading into Christmas.
“But even after that, I felt really good. Things just kept going,” said O’Dell, who turns 23 in late June.
Not long after his birthday, the Ottawa native will be in line to become a restricted free agent, although it would be a shocker if the Winnipeg Jets don’t come up with a qualifying offer to retain his negotiating rights.
He said he didn’t dwell too much on the soon-to-be expiration of his entry-level deal, however.
“I did know coming in I would need to have a good year,” he said. “But I didn’t want to think about (the contract situation) too much, just because that sort of thing can get to you. If you’re thinking of that, you might find yourself not playing very well and that defeats the purpose, right?
“I just focused on playing hockey, bounces started going my way and things worked out.”
O’Dell finished the season as the centre of the IceCaps’ unquestioned No. 1 line scoring line, between Kael Mouillierat and Josh Lunden. That was definitely not part of the plan in the fall — both Mouillierat and Lunden had started the season in the ECHL and didn’t join the IceCaps until December and January, respectively. And while O’Dell had been with St. John’s through the 2011-12 campaign, he had found playing time hard to come by as a first-year pro, appearing in only about half the IceCaps’ games, scoring 12 goals and 22 points, and only suiting up for three of St. John’s 15 post-season contests.
When this past season started, he was a healthy scratch for the first two games.
“We had a lot of veteran guys and as a rookie, that’s what you have to go through,” he said. “It’s the same in every league, with every team.
“I knew what I was up for and that coming into this season, it was going to be an important year for me. I took advantage of it.”
Most of the advantage-taking came after New Years Day. What with the foot injury, O’Dell had been limited to 17 games to that point, with just five goals. But he still felt good enough to set a personal goal of having 20 tallies this season.
He went beyond that. As the weather got colder, O’Dell became hotter — he had 24 goals and 22 assists in St. John’s final 42 games.
To his chagrin, just one of those goals game in the last seven contests, leaving him just one short of 30.
“I wanted it pretty bad,” he said of the 30-goal mark. “The last couple of games, everybody was talking about it and I guess I started thinking about it too much and ended up gripping my stick a little too tight.”
He’s also just one short on another measuring stick.
“Out of 10, I’d say I’m at nine,” he replied when asked for a reading on his confidence metre.
That needle will probably move up the remaining notch whenever he gets to play his first NHL game.
“I was hoping I could get a call up (from the Jets) sometime this year and prove to them I could play,” he said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.
“But next year is a new one and I’ll get another chance at camp and hopefully, I can show them what I am about.”