Nervous IceCaps can wrap up first-round playoff tonight
It appears Keith McCambridge’s plan to inject a bit more offence into the St. John’s IceCaps’ lineup Wednesday night worked out when defenceman Will O’Neill collected an assist on the only goal of the game as the IceCaps grabbed a 2-1 lead on the Albany Devils in their American Hockey League first-round playoff series.
Game 4 of the best-of-five Eastern Conference quarter-final goes 7:30 p.m. tonight at Mile One Centre. If a deciding game is required, it will be played Saturday night in St. John’s.
McCambridge went with six defenceman and 12 forwards in the first two games of the series in Albany, but opted for a seven-and-11 lineup Wednesday, drawing O’Neill into the game, while forward Josh Lunden was forced to sit.
O’Neill scored nine goals and 35 points in 68 games this season, second only to rookie Brenden Kichton in points among rearguards.
“I knew I was taking the warmup, and then I got the nod which was pretty exciting,” O’Neill said.
“It was obviously disappointing (not playing the first two games), but you have to take it in stride. There are a lot of good players, and it’s part of the game. There’s nothing you can do other than to be ready for my chance whenever I get it.”
O’Neill had an impact on the game, collecting an assist on Kael Mouillierat’s goal at 17:50 of the first period. O’Neill fed the puck to fellow defenceman Zach Redmond, who sprung Mouillierat loose with a long pass.
“I just want to give the team a spark, give the team some energy, be talkative on the bench, and bring some jam to the game,” said O’Neill, a Boston native. “Take a shot, make a play, try to contribute on the power play if I’m there, and I think the rest will come.
“I just want to play my game.”
If ice time is a window into what tonight’s lineup could look like, there’s a good chance O’Neill will play again. That’s because rookie Josh Morrissey received very little ice time Wednesday.
Game 3 of the series was a close, tight-checking affair, just as most of the games in the Calder Cup playoffs.
And while some of the IceCaps admit to being a tad edgy before the drop of the puck, there’s enough big-game experience in the locker room to quell jumpy nerves.
Won with Bears
Andrew Gordon won back-to-back AHL championships with the Hershey Bears in 2009 and 2010, Jason Jaffray and Jerome Samson won Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League titles and Carl Klingberg won a bronze medal with Sweden in the world junior championship. J.C. Lipon also played in the world juniors, for Canada.
“I think experience makes a difference, but I still get nervous,” said IceCaps winger Patrice Cormier, who captained Canada to a gold medal in the 2009 world juniors in Ottawa.
“I was talking to Gordon — he’s been through a lot of playoffs — and I asked him if he still gets nervous. He said, ‘Oh yeah.’
“I get jitters, butterflies, have trouble getting the pre-game nap. I get excited, and I try to turn it into energy, and then turn it up when the game gets going.”
Cormier was certainly energetic Wednesday, throwing several big hits. The line of Cormier, Kyle MacKinnon and Blair Riley played quality minutes for McCambridge.
Cormier can recall Canada’s first game in the 2009 world juniors — an 8-1 win over the Czech Republic on Boxing Day — when he found himself more of a passenger than a driver early in the game.
“I remember getting caught looking around and watching the game, thinking too much,” he said. “The biggest mistake you can make is to over think.
“Just go out there, skate, hit, get a shot on goal, get hit ... do something. Then you’re right into the game.”
There’s nothing to suggest tonight’s game won’t be the same low-scoring, tight-checking affair that’s become a trademark of these playoffs.
But just because the IceCaps have the series lead, with two chances to put it away on home ice, don’t think for a moment the players think they’re sitting pretty.
“I’m pretty sure,” Cormier said, “there’s no one in the (dressing) room feeling because we won that game we’re comfortable. We’re still on our toes. I’m as nervous today as I was before the game.
“Albany’s shown up every game, and they’re not going to stop. We know that. And we also know we’re not going to stop. That will make for a great Game 4.”