Adds veteran leadership, scoring to IceCaps
If Jerome Samson figured the time was right to move on to another organization, to ply his trade in a traditional hockey market, well, consider it mission accomplished.
After spending six years in the United States — three each in Albany, N.Y. and Charlotte, N.C. — Samson is one of the new additions to the St. John’s IceCaps, who play before routine sellout crowds at home in the American Hockey League.
In this town, the IceCaps are the preeminent sports story, unlike North Carolina where the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers are an afterthought to the NFL, NBA, college hoops and NASCAR.
And did we mention the weather?
“Obviously,” Samson was saying just before the IceCaps broke for Christmas, “everyone enjoyed the weather in North Carolina. It’s great year-round. So coming to Newfoundland was an adjustment in that regard, but hey, it’s hockey weather.”
Following an 11-day holiday break, the IceCaps were back in action last night in Worcester, Mass., the first of three games on the road (St. John’s plays in Manchester, N.H. tonight and Springfield, Mass. Tuesday) before returning home for a busy January, a month which will see the IceCaps play eight games at Mile One Centre and four on the road.
Entering Friday’s game against the Sharks, St. John’s was seventh in the Eastern Conference at 15-11-1-2. As the IceCaps embark on the second half of the season, and a push for a playoff berth, Samson will be looked upon to be a key figure in the lineup.
“The No. 1 thing with Jerome is offensive ability,” IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge said. “When we, as an organization, looked at him last summer, we were looking at a guy who can score goals, has some veteran leadership, has had success at this level and is a guy who can play games in the NHL.”
Apart from the NHL bit — Samson is still looking to make his first appearance in a Winnipeg Jets jersey, after the parent club recalled Patrice Cormier, John Albert and Eric O’Dell at various times this season — Samson hasn’t disappointed.
There was a bit of a hiccup in late October and early November when he missed seven games to injury. But it didn’t take him long to shake off any rust, registering four goals in three games shortly after returning to the lineup.
As of Friday, the 26-year-old product of Greenfield Park, Que., in the Montreal suburbs, was fifth in IceCaps’ scoring with eight goals and 17 points in 21 games.
“He’s been a good player for us,” McCambridge said. “He’s a straight line player ... up and down the wing, shooting pucks in stride. To put up the numbers he’s put up in this league, it’s a big reason why we wanted him in this organization, to be able to be the guy to go between here and Winnipeg.”
Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Carolina Hurricanes following a stellar junior career in the Quebec league — he won a championship with the Moncton Wildcats and was the most sportsmanlike player at the 2005-06 Memorial Cup — Samson proved to be a real find by the NHL club.
He’s a former AHL first-team all-star, played in the league’s 2012 All-Star Classic and has scored 20 or more goals five times in his AHL career.
More importantly, he suited up in 46 NHL games for the Hurricanes, netting a pair of goals and nine points.
A free agent last summer, Samson signed a one-year deal with the Jets, a contract that pays him $200,000 to play in St. John’s, according to capgeek.com.
“I just felt it was time to move on,” he said, “and the Jets approached me fairly early in free agency. I thought Winnipeg was a good fit. It’s a good organization in which to continue my career, and maybe get a few NHL games.”
Though only in his mid-20s, Samson is considered something of a veteran on a youthful IceCaps team. Ironically, he travels to and from Mile One with team captain Jason Jaffray and Cormier, a fourth-year pro, from the Southlands section of St. John’s where the three are living.
“Obviously, I try to bring some leadership to the group, but I’m not going to stand up in the room and be a big talker,” he said. “I try to lead by example on and off the ice ... by being a good pro hockey player at the rink and away from the rink.”
Samson played three seasons in the New York capital of Albany, and went with the team to North Carolina when the franchise was sold and relocated to Charlotte, about a three-hour drive from Raleigh where the Hurricanes play.
“There were good days and bad days down there,” Samson said of playing in the Tar Heel state. “If we played on a Wednesday night or Sunday when the (NFL’s) Panthers were playing, attendance wasn’t outstanding.
“It’s a fairly big building (the Timer Warner Cable Arena is also home to the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats) and we drew over 10,000 a couple of times. If we had a Friday or a Saturday game-night promotion, we’d draw 12,000.”
St. John’s isn’t totally new to Samson. While he toiled for the Wildcats in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he visited Newfoundland a couple of times to play the Fog Devils when that team existed.
“We’d only be here for a couple of days, and we didn’t get to see the city. It was fly in, play, head back to the hotel, back to the rink, play and head home.
“St. John’s wasn’t something that was part of my decision (to sign with the Jets). But the fact I’m back in Canada, playing in a hockey market where the games are sold out, it makes for better atmosphere and certainly makes for a fun game.”
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort