Published on July 17, 2013
Defenceman Will O'Neill (foreground) shown in a practice drill, is returning to the St. John's IceCaps next season, this time under an AHL contract. Meanwhile, the parent Winnipeg Jets have also re-signed centre Patrice Cormier (background). Cormier, who spent most of the last two seasons in St. John's, had been a restricted free agent. — Telegram file photo
Published on July 17, 2013
The IceCaps are also bringing back winger Ryan Schnell, shown trading punches with the Worcester Sharks' Jimmy Boneau during an AHL game at Mile One Centre last season.
Scrappy, high-energy forward one of four players signed to AHL deals by St. John's on Tuesday
He’s a career minor-leaguer, one who has played for six different clubs in the last four seasons. His scoring numbers are modest, showing just 15 goals and 14 assists in 144 career American Hockey League games. He’s not a huge player at six feet, 210 pounds and not a particularly young one, with his 28th birthday coming up in the fall.
But Blair Riley, one of four players the St. John’s IceCaps signed to AHL contracts on Tuesday, is exactly what IceCaps’ coach Keith McCambridge figures the Winnipeg Jets farm club needs.
“Why do I like him? Because he has some bite to his game, because he’s intense every time he steps onto the ice and because he can help us in many different areas,” said McCambridge about Riley, a British Columbia native who played for the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers the last two seasons.
“He’s not a one-dimensional player. He’s the type of guy who can do a lot of things well. He’s not going to hurt you, no matter what the situation is.”
To give you an idea of Riley’s versatility, you might consider this: He has enough skill to warrant having been a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top U.S. college hockey player in 2009-2010, his final season at Ferris State University; and he possesses enough toughness to have fought nearly two dozen times in 74 AHL games last season, with more than a few of those bouts coming against noted scrappers like Troy Bodie, Jay Rosehill, Bobby Robins and Jimmy Bonneau.
“It’s that intensity, it’s that work ethic that I think can rally help move us in the direction of the identity we want for this team,” said McCambridge of Riley, a Bridgeport fan favourite who had 165 penalty minutes with the Sound Tigers last season, about three quarters of those PIMs resulting from fighting majors.
Besides Riley, St. John’s also reached deals with defenceman Will O’Neill and forwards Ryan Schnell and Yasin Cisse. O’Neill and Schnell played with the IceCaps last season, while the 21-year-old Cisse was fifth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010, the year before that team moved to Winnipeg to become the Jets.
O’Neill, 25, had three goals and 21 points in 59 games for St. John’s while on an NHL contract in 2012-13, but the Jets did not offer him a qualifying offer after he became a restricted free agent, instead opting to bring him back on an AHL deal. Schnell, 24, split the 2012-13 campaign between St. John’s and Colorado Eagles of the ECHL. In 22 games with the IceCaps, the big winger recorded 57 penalty minutes.
McCambridge can envision Schnell and Riley playing with centre John Albert, recently re-signed by the Jets organization, on a unit that would provide some oomph.
“I like what the Toronto Maple Leafs did with that fourth line of theirs last season,” said McCambridge. “It’s kind of what we had with Garth Murray in our first year ... a high-energy physical line that gets defencemen off their heels and the fans on their feet.”
Cisse, 21, played in 27 games with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL last season after coming over from Boston University. A right-handed forward, he had14 points (8G, 6A) and 27 penalty minutes for the Armada. Other players who have AHL deals with St. John’s next year are team captain Jason Jaffray, Jason King, Josh Lunden and Kael Mouillierat. All four are forwards who were with the team last season.
Meanwhile, the Jets also announced they have reached agreement on a new contract with centre Patrice Cormier, who spent most of the last two seasons with St. John's. Cormier had become a restricted free agent when his entry-level NHL deal expired earlier this month. He had been given a qualifying offer by Winnipeg.