IceCaps’ centre has gone from an unknown quantity to trusted prospect in Jets organization
After making an impact on the Winnipeg Jets coaching staff, Eric O’Dell now knows this 2013-14 American Hockey League campaign will be the most important season of his young career.
Syracuse Crunch defenceman Luke Witkowski (82) tries to hold up St. John’s IceCaps’ centre Eric O'Dell (14) as O’Dell turns up the ice during American Hockey League preseason action Sunday evening at Mile One Centre in St. John’s. IceCaps’ forward Kael Mouillierat (21) and Syracuse defenceman Nikita Nesterov look on. The IceCaps won the game 3-2, but the Crunch won the three-game Mary’s Cup exhibition tournament two games to one.
Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
The IceCaps’ scoring leader and team MVP last season arrived at Winnipeg’s training camp as a bit of an unknown, but left last week having made an impression on Jets’ head coach Claude Noel and his staff.
“I think Eric O’Dell did tremendous justice to himself at training camp,” said IceCaps general manager and Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger Sunday, between periods of the third and final game of the Mary’s Cup exhibition series between St. John’s and the Syracuse Crunch.
“The first year, nobody was really familiar with him because it was a transition year (with the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg), and last year was a lockout year and there was no training camp.
“So Eric was, for lack of a better term, just a name to the coaches. He had a terrific camp and he earned the coaches trust and admiration.
“Should he continue his progress in the AHL, things will move forward for him.”
They certainly moved forward last year, as the 23-year-old from Ottawa topped the IceCaps in scoring with 29 goals and 55 points.
He was the league’s player of the week for the period ending March 17 when he registered three goals and a pair of assists in two St. John’s victories.
“I thought I made a good impression in Winnipeg,” O’Dell said. “And that’s what I wanted to do — play well, and crack a roster spot.
“That didn’t happen, but I opened some eyes so now hopefully I’ll get a callup.”
Though he was held off the scoresheet, O’Dell was in fine form Sunday at Mile One Centre in the IceCaps’ 3-2 win over the Crunch.
He had a few scoring opportunities, but was foiled by Syracuse goaltender Cedric Desjardins.
Despite the loss, the Crunch won the Mary’s Cup, the third time the Tampa Bay Lightning farm team won the event (the Norfolk Admirals won in 2011, a year before the franchise transferred to Syracuse).
“It’s going to be huge,” O’Dell said of the new season, which opens Friday night at home with the Providence Bruins in for a pair of games.
“I have to play like I did last year, or even better, and I think good things will happen for me.”
The IceCaps have 36 players in camp, but coach Keith McCambridge will be paring down the roster with cuts today, probably as many as 10-12 players.
Last season, the IceCaps limped to a 32-36-3-5 record, and out of the playoffs after reaching the conference final in their first season.
“And it’s another reason I want to play hard, for me and the team,” O’Dell said. “We have to win more games, and I want to make the playoffs.
“The better your team is, the farther you go and the more people are watching. That’s our goal for this year.”
The IceCaps won Sunday’s game on newcomer Andrew Gordon’s goal at 5:08 of the third period, redirecting a pass from rookie defenceman Brendan Kichton from the point.
That came after the IceCaps coughed up a two-goal lead on goals by Nikita Nesterov and Cedric Paquette.
St. John’s had taken a 2-0 lead with Blair Riley’s first-period goal and Josh Lunden scoring in the second in his first start of the season.
Eddie Pasquale made 26 saves to register the win.
The IceCaps could receive more players today if Adam Pardy and Patrice Cormier clear waivers.
The two were placed on waivers Sunday as Winnipeg tries to get to 23 players by today.
The Jets currently have 24 players, with Zach Redmond perhaps being the easy choice for demotion given his two-way contract.
And speaking of waivers and Newfoundlanders (Pardy is from Bonavista), Luke Adam of St. John’s cleared waivers and was reassigned to the Rochester Americans Sunday.
The Amerks do not play in St. John’s this season.