Column: Keep it up, Klingberg

Robin
Robin Short
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After being a healthy scratch for three games last month, the St. John’s IceCaps’ Carl Klingberg has served notice to those who had him written off that he’s not done yet. The 22-year-old has started delivering on expectations with four goals in the IceCaps’ last five games.

Swedish speedster displaying consistency, character during IceCaps’ upswing

Carl Klingberg may have enjoyed his finest pair of back-to-back games as an IceCap this season, just as St. John’s shook the gorilla off its back and swept the Syracuse Crunch at home this week, the first time in six tries the suddenly-surging team took four points from opponents on home ice.

Now Klingberg must turn in another good effort tonight in Hamilton, Ont. And tomorrow in Toronto. And in the new year when the IceCaps return from their lengthy Christmas break. And in the playoff stretch. And ... well, you get the picture.

Problem with Klingberg has never been his skill. Truth is, he’s a full package — size, blinding speed, finish around the net, and he’s not afraid to venture into the corners.

Question is, you’re never quite sure which Klingberg will show — the player described above, or the one who floated through the first 11 games of the season with three goals before a forced exile to the press box.

“Carl has to have consistency in his game,” IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge said this week, after Klingberg scored a goal, drew a pair of penalties and drove to the net all night long in a 6-2 win over Syracuse. “I thought he did some good things tonight. He needs to do the same tomorrow night, and the next night.”

There was a time the 22-year-old Swede was considered a Winnipeg Jets prospect. He was drafted by Atlanta 34th overall in 2009, inherited by the Jets in their purchase of the Thrashers.

During the IceCaps’ first season, Klingberg was recalled to Winnipeg for six games. Last season, he watched the Jets turn to Patrice Cormier and Aaron Gagnon when they needed help from the farm, and this season has slid further down the depth chart behind John Albert, currently on recall, and probably Eric O’Dell.

But hold on a minute. Klingberg has served notice to those who had him written off that he’s not done yet.

Paired on a new-look line with rookies J.C. Lipon and Adam Lowry, the 6-3, 200-pound Klingberg kept the Crunch on their heels this week with his NHL speed, and when given the chance, took the puck to the net in a straight line instead of taking the long way around.

“Yup. You betcha,” he answered when asked if that’s what he has to do to be effective. “I have to be doing that every time. I’m just going to keep trying to do the same thing every time, no matter if we’re playing the first-place team or a last-place team, if they have 10 players called up or none. It’s not going to matter. I’m going to do the same thing.

“Sometimes you have to struggle. That’s how it works.”

Klingberg’s struggles reached a head early last month when he was scratched for three games at Mile One. His game improved upon his return, and has taken off of late with four goals in the past five starts.

“I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’m scoring goals, and it’s fun,” he said. “I’m not going to score every time. The main thing is to play well.”

Klingberg said when he was taken out of the IceCaps’ lineup, and subsequently when he returned to playing, there was no sitdown with McCambridge, no reading of the riot act or, on the flip side, no coddling either.

Both he and the coach know and understand how Klingberg should be playing. It’s not science.

“I wasn’t playing the game I should be playing and that’s why I sat. It was kind of a wakeup call.”

“The difference,” said McCambridge, “with Carl Klingberg now vs. Carl Klingberg last month is he’s playing the way we expect him to play. And all the players know what their roles and expectations are. When he plays to his capabilities, his potential, he gets icetime. That’s the way the game works.

“A coach never wants to keep his best players off the ice or in the dressing room. He wants them to play, and when Carl is playing the way we’ve seen him in the past, he’s on the ice and in the games.”

Klingberg’s contract with the Jets expires at the end of this season when he becomes a restricted free agent. He hopes to impress Winnipeg by helping St. John’s in a playoff run — the IceCaps, heading into two games this weekend and the Christmas break, have won seven of their last 10 games — which would find him back on the Jets’ radar.

“I want to play in the NHL, of course, but right now my focus is on St. John’s,” he said. “I want to have a good year and I don’t care if I’m down here the whole year, if I’m having a great year. I’m focused wherever I am and whatever I’m doing.

“I want to play at the highest level, but right now I feel this is a good level for me to keep improving all the time.”

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email at rshort@thetelegram.com.

Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort

Organizations: IceCaps, Winnipeg Jets, NHL

Geographic location: Hamilton, Toronto, Winnipeg Syracuse

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