One up, one down (but not out)

Robin
Robin Short
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While John Albert enjoys first taste of NHL action, Eric O’Dell waits patiently for a call from Winnipeg

When John Albert scored his first National Hockey League goal, on his first shot in his first game in The Show — appropriately enough, played at Madison Square Garden, just down the street from Broadway — few people felt happier for the affable Ohio native than his IceCaps teammates back in St. John’s.

Albert was recalled from the American Hockey League’s IceCaps Sunday to replace an ailing Winnipeg Jets centre Evander Kane, and made an immediate impact as his goal put the Jets up 2-1 on the New York Rangers at the 10-minute mark of the second period.

Albert took a nice lead pass from Dustin Byfuglien and in typical Albert fashion, used his speed to break loose of the Rangers defenceman before beating goaltender Cam Talbot high.

Winnipeg would go on to win the game 5-2.

Among those in St. John’s watching were IceCaps roommates Julian Melchiori and Eric O’Dell, one of whom has enjoyed a brief recall to Winnipeg and the other who is still waiting for a promotion.

Despite leading the IceCaps with 10 goals and 12 assists in 22 games — good for 10th overall in league scoring — O’Dell has yet to get a taste of NHL action outside of a couple of pre-seasons starts in the fall.

The 23-year-old product of Ottawa is saying all the right things, about being patient and all that stuff, but does admit it isn’t easy.

“You’re always waiting for that opportunity to go up,” he said after practice Tuesday morning. “It’s cliche, I know, but you just go game to game, and keeping working hard and hope it (recall) comes.

“And when it does come, you have to do what you can to stay.”

Albert’s big night Monday couldn’t have happened to a better person, and his is a story of perseverance.

Generously listed at 5-11, Albert was a sixth-round draft pick of the old Atlanta Thrashers in 2007. He operated on an AHL contract his first two seasons in St. John’s before signing his first NHL deal over the summer.

“I’ve been dreaming (of this) since I was three-years-old,” he told reporters following the game Monday night.

“I know I’m playing good hockey, and Coach (Keith McCambridge) is telling me I’m playing good,” O’Dell was saying Tuesday. “I just have to stick to my game and hopefully good things will happen, and I get my chance, and I will shine.”

On the IceCaps’ recent six-game road trip, in which St. John’s went 4-2 to climb to 11-9-1-2 for seventh place in the Eastern Conference, the IceCaps took in a Winnipeg-New Jersey Devils game at the Prudential Centre in Newark.

As McCambridge said at the time, it was a glorious opportunity for some of the IceCaps’ young to see the Jets up close, to see what it takes to play in the NHL, and come to the realization they are very close to the best hockey league in the world.

“Even in training camp,” O’Dell said, “and getting in some exhibition games, I thought I could play there (in the NHL) and I felt good against those guys.

“Watching that game in Jersey, I took some mental notes — seeing how the guys were doing on faceoffs, seeing how they were backchecking, working hard ... things like that which I will put into my game.”

O’Dell will get a chance to put those pointers into use this weekend when he and the IceCaps tangle with the 13-5-1-2 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Mile One.

Games are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday (Rogers TV, 930 AM, stjohnsicecaps.com).

rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: IceCaps, NHL, Winnipeg Jets American Hockey League New York Rangers Atlanta Thrashers Winnipeg-New Jersey Devils Prudential Centre

Geographic location: Winnipeg, Ottawa, Jersey Wilkes-Barre

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