St. John’s IceCaps getting contributions from everywhere and everyone in bid for Calder Cup
Of the American Hockey League’s top 25 scorers through the 2014 Calder Cup playoffs, only two skaters — Eric O’Dell and Andrew Gordon, in the 13th and 14th spots — are St. John’s IceCaps. Next up are Will O’Neill and Zach Redmond, both defencemen, at Nos. 26 and 27.
Yet the IceCaps are 7-3 in the post-season, and their goals-for-and-against ratio stands a pretty tidy 29-19, almost — but not quite — as good as the Toronto Marlies (30-11) and the Texas Stars (33-19), finalists for the Western Conference championship.
“There’s the saying that we get it done by committee,” head coach Keith McCambridge said Friday night, after his IceCaps dispatched the Norfolk Admirals 5-2 at Mile One Centre to win the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal in six games.
“When you look at our team, there isn’t one line that jumps off the page. There’s our first and second looking to finish on scoring opportunities, and either one of our third and fourth lines are wearing you down physically, and creating scoring chances.
“But all four can defend.”
Rolling four lines
As McCambridge continues to roll four lines this spring, depth is a word often used when discussing the IceCaps, who will make their second appearance in three years in the conference final, starting Saturday night at Mile One against either the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins or the Providence Bruins (Game 6 of their series was played Monday night in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., with the Penguins leading 3-2).
Everyone is contributing to the cause, including the line of Kyle MacKinnon, Patrice Cormier and Blair Riley, which entered Friday’s contest still looking for their first playoff goals.
MacKinnon picked the right time to get on the scoreboard, netting the game-winner late in the Eric O’Dell has been on fire for the St. John’s IceCaps with seven playoff goals, including six in the past four games. O’Dell had a goal and an assist Friday night. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegramsecond period.
Even then, despite the lack of offensive output before Friday, the MackInnon-Cormier-Riley combo has been invaluable in the playoffs, adept at shutting down the opposition, crashing and banging and generally being McCambridge’s momentum-turning unit whenever he feels the IceCaps need a lift.
“We’re able to play the game any way it needs to be played,” the coach said.
“We have a physical element, which is something we wanted to bring in when we put this team together. And we have the element of speed, which is what you need in today’s game.”
It was Gordon and O’Dell steering the IceCaps’ ship past the Admirals Friday, as both had a goal and an assist, and both scored at critical times in the contest.
O’Dell netted his seventh goal of the playoffs — and sixth in the past four games — at 10:21 of the second period to stake St. John’s to a 2-1 lead.
After MacKinnon scored at 17:03 of the second for a 3-2 St. John’s advantage, Gordon gave St. John’s a two-goal lead early in the third, tallying his sixth of the post season 3:27 in.
Gordon came up big when it mattered, as captain Jason Jaffray was scratched from the lineup because of injury after taking the pre-game warmup, another example of the team’s depth.
Jaffray, the elder statesman on St. John’s at age 32, has been a steady performer for St. John’s with a pair of goals and four assists in nine games.
He missed practice last Thursday, on the eve of the IceCaps’ clinching win, and wasn’t on the ice Monday as St. John’s worked out at Mile One.
Jaffray appeared in all 76 games this season, and nine playoff games.
“I thought Andrew Gordon really took a step forward, really stepped up with regards to leadership,” McCambridge said. “He’s been a strong leader for us all season long, but really was a good, strong calming voice on the bench for some of the players.
“He knows how to play in big games like this and he’s shown that all season long, especially in these playoffs.”
As for O’Dell, he’s been doing the heavy lifting for the IceCaps in the postseason, with seven goals and an assist in 10 games.
He’s showing exactly why the Winnipeg Jets suited him up for 30 National Hockey League games this season, where he tallied up three goals and seven points.
“To be honest, I’m feeling so comfortable out there,” he said.
“My confidence is so high, and I know I have to play well, play my game if our team wants to move forward in the playoffs.
“I feel like I’m doing good right now. I just have to keep it going.”
Just as the IceCaps’ forwards chipped away at the Albany Devils in their first-round playoff series and most recently the Admirals, the St. John’s defenceman have also been playing dependable hockey.
Josh Morrissey has future star written all over him, Ben Chiarot has emerged as the big puck-mover many envisioned and Will O’Neill has been near-flawless since taking over the No. 1 power play unit after sitting out the first two playoff games in Albany.
“Our young players have really started to take a bigger bite out of minutes,” McCambridge said.
“Guys are really starting to turn the corner. Teams are finding our key big, strong defenceman are hard to play against.”
Of course, there’s that other little intangible that goes hand in hand with playoff success — goaltending.
Michael Hutchinson has played every minute of every playoff game, and his 1.68 goals against average and .941 save percentage are third-best, behind Toronto’s Drew MacIntyre and John Gibson of the Admirals, who was recalled to the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks after the second game against St. John’s.
Hutchinson was in fine form Friday, foiling Emerson Etem with a nice right pad save as the Norfolk player, who spent 29 games in Anaheim this year, was sprung on a partial breakaway.
The IceCaps goalie came up big again minutes later, zipping across his crease to rob Stefan Noesen with a big glove save as a Norfolk power play was expiring with 30 seconds left in the first period.
“That was a huge difference in the game,” McCambridge said.
“He has given us an opportunity to win the game every time he’s in the net.”