A taste wasn’t enough

Robin
Robin Short
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IceCaps’ Albert eager to return to NHL level following eight-game stint with Jets

Let’s face it, when you’ve savored prime rib with red wine, it’s hard going back to potted meat and water.
And so, while John Albert and the others — Patrice Cormier, Zach Redmond, Julian Melchior and Ben Chariot — who have enjoyed the St. John’s to Winnipeg express this year, sing the praises of the American Hockey League’s IceCaps, you know it can’t be easy when the NHL clock strikes midnight and it’s back to the minors you go.

While John Albert (right) is content to be back with his St. John’s IceCaps teamates after eight games with the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets, the speedy winger is eager to earn another recall to the show. The IceCaps open a three-game series against the Portland Pirates starting Sunday afternoon, 4 o’clock, at Mile One Centre. They meet again Monday and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. 

Albert makes his first appearance at Mile One since Nov. 16 on Sunday afternoon, when the IceCaps take on Portland in the first of three straight games against the Pirates. Since mid-November, Albert’s been on the road with the IceCaps and, oh yes, living the life as a National Hockey League player, his first recall to the bigs.

We all know by now Albert had a fairly auspicious debut in the NHL, scoring his first big league goal on his first big league shot at the rink they call ‘The World’s Most Famous Arena’ in New York City.

For an American kid — Albert’s from Cleveland — it doesn’t get much bigger than scoring a goal on Madison Square Garden ice.

In Canada, he was all over the television, the imminent reference to Albert from the old Canadian Tire TV commercials — “Wish we had a guy like that” — coming from TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

“The first day leading up to the game, in New York City, I was pretty anxious. I tried to lie down, but I couldn’t fall asleep,” he said.

“I think everything finally hit me when we went out for warmups. There was already a big crowd in the Garden. I knew couple of guys on the Rangers who I used to play with in Columbus (at Ohio State University) and seeing them across the ice, and being able to skate against them in the NHL, was quite an honour.”

Albert appeared in eight games with the Jets, enjoying the NHL and life with comes with it — charter flights, five-star hotels, road per diems of just over $100 per day.

Ah yes, the money.

In Albert’s case, he pocketed a pro-rated portion of his $585,000 annual NHL salary, a nice little bump from the 65 grand he earns in the American league.

“The NHL guys,” he was saying this week, “they get treated ... I don’t want to say better, but they get more stuff because of the level they’re at. St. John’s is one of best organizations to play with in the AHL in terms of the food (pre-game meals when the IceCaps are on the road) and clothing and the gear we get. This organization treats you like a pro, no matter what level you’re at.

“But, I mean, you’re in the NHL. There are the charter flights, the hotels, the team meals.”

See CONFIDENT, page A23

At the end of the day, however, Albert is a hockey player, and while that stuff matters — the dough, especially — hockey players want to play in the NHL.

And when you get a taste of life in the bigs, you want more.

“Playing eight games, and not being a healthy scratch was a big privilege ... just to be in the lineup, getting my feet wet, seeing first-hand the speed of the game.

“I wasn’t frustrated at all getting sent down. I know at the end of the day that it’s a business. But I want to get back up there.”

Albert has only three goals in 26 IceCaps’ games this season, but remains a threat when he’s on the ice because of his NHL-calibre speed.

And while the IceCaps teeter around the playoff boundary line — they were eighth in the East as of Friday at 16-16 — Albert likes what he sees in St. John’s, even as the team sputters entering the three-game series with the Pirates, losers of three of their last four games.

“From the first couple of weeks in camp, when I did a few interviews and I was telling people then, I like this team. I like it a lot.

“This team works hard in practice and in games. The games we lost, I really don’t think it was from a lack of effort. Every game we go into, we work for each other. I think down the stretch, we’re going to be a good team.”

Which means more chances for callup.

Like the 2011-12 Norfolk Admirals, winners of the Calder Cup that season. At least nine players from that team are full-time NHLers today.

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.

He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort

Organizations: National Hockey League, IceCaps, Jets Madison Square Garden Canadian Tire Ohio State University

Geographic location: Portland, New York City.For, Cleveland Canada New York City Columbus

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