By Brendan McCarthy
If you want to make a good case, it helps to have good witnesses.
So as the St. John’s IceCaps work to maintain a presence in the American Hockey League, they are seeking the testimony of players — past and present — about how geography is not as much as a negative it is perceived to be when talking about having an AHL team in Newfoundland.
The Winnipeg Jets, who own the IceCaps franchise, have indicated they will move their operations from here to somewhere closer to Winnipeg at the end of the 2014-15 season. The Jets, like many other National Hockey League teams, have decided it is operationally easier — in terms of up-and-down player movement, salary-cap management, etc. — to have their minor-leaguers in closer proximity to the parent club.
But when talking about St. John’s, the necessary amount of regular-season travel — teams regularly have had 80 or more hotel nights a year — has always seemed to be an issue, one going back to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who cited lengthy road trips and, in particular, the impact they have on practice time as a factor when they took their AHL team from here in 2005 and relocated it in Toronto.
However, the argument has been made by those who have played or coached in St. John’s that there are positives to the travel schedule, beginning with the fact the majority of the mileage involves flights as opposed to buses, and that time on the road aids in team bonding and has contributed to a very good record in away games.
St. John’s was 23-10-5 on the road during the 2013-14 regular season— the third-best road record in the AHL — and the IceCaps have gone 65-37-22 overall in road games since entering the league three years ago.
That’s something the IceCaps are pointing out as they look for a new NHL partner to take the place of Jets. And they are seeking members of the St. John’s AHL alumnus in making their argument.
“We are going to present players, former players, coaches, executives, who are saying exactly that, that the perception about the travel — and other things, as well — is wrong,” said IceCaps’ chief operating officer and governor Glenn Stanford.
Stanford ran the St. John’s Maple Leafs operation during its time here, but also spent five years doing the same job with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, and feels he has a good, comparative perspective on the issue of travel and St. John’s,
“When I was in Hamilton, we were about 75-80 days on the road, and you weren’t getting on a plane and travelling. For example, we’d play Grand Rapids quite a bit and that was a five- or six-hour bus ride around the lake (Ontario). We’d play them there on a Wednesday night, and we’d have to make that long trip back to Hamilton to be ready for a game on Friday night.
“So, there are travel issues in other cities in the league. The nice thing here is that you’re flying everywhere and there is very little busing.
“It isn’t all the negative it’s made out to be, so we have to change that perception and we’re doing everything we can to do just that.
“All the other reasons (NHL) organizations have (for wanting to have their AHL teams closer) aren’t going to go away, but we want to make it clear that travel, as it relates to St. John’s, is something that can also go on the right side of the ledger, depending at how you look at it.
“We just have to get them to look at it that way.”