St. John’s bracing for NHL trade winds

Brendan McCarthy
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The St. John’s IceCaps Eric O’Dell (left) is backed up by teammate John Albert (16) as he is pursued by the Manchester Monarchs Sean Backman during a game earlier this season at Mile One Centre. O’Dell was assigned to the IceCaps before the Olympic break along with defenceman Zach Redmond.

IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge would like ‘lineup to stay together’

If you follow the National Hockey League, it will be difficult to avoid all the analysis and speculation in advance of Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline.

Over the last couple of years, the reality is that actual deadline transactions didn’t have the fizz to come close to matching all the buzz of the lead-up days. But no matter the size or wow factor of a deal, whether it is a blockbuster or barely worth posting on a trade tracker, there is a decent chance it will result in some collateral impact at the AHL level.

For example, if an NHL team is a seller at the deadline, it might receive prospects who will immediately play in its system. Or the sell-off might create vacancies on the big-league club that will need to be filled via promotions from the AHL. If a team is a buyer, there’s a chance the price paid might involve players from the farm club.

Fans of the St. John’s IceCaps, however, can say they’ve never experienced either side of the equation as the parent Winnipeg Jets have been extremely quiet at the trade deadline the last two seasons. Last year, for example, the only deadline move by Winnipeg was to acquire forward Mike Santorelli on waivers.

That’s not to say the Jets won’t be active over the next week, although it’s tough to predict what their role might be if they are; Winnipeg is floating in deadline limbo, having begun its post-Olympic schedule two points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge is not a fretter, but admits he is well aware what could happen in the coming days.

“A move up there certainly could mean a move affecting us here. But it really is the sort of thing we deal with all the time,” said McCambridge. “When you’re in the American league, you always know your job is to provide players to the parent club.

“Things can change quickly. You deal with that possibility every day. You can have your lineup on the board at 1 p.m. on game day and it can change before game time.”

But even as he espoused the “whatever will be, will be” line, McCambridge did express the hope that if some waves are created by Winnipeg between now and Wednesday evening that it won’t have too much of a ripple affect down here.

“Any time there is some player movement, it’s out of our control, he said. “But we’d like for our lineup to stay together. This group has built a lot of chemistry and it shows.”

So far, St. John’s has not been subject to the post-Olympic call-ups that many AHL teams have been experiencing as players who were sent down to get in some action during the NHL shutdown were recalled.

Centre Eric O’Dell and defenceman Zach Redmond were assigned to the IceCaps just before the Olympics, but it looks like they’ll stay put for the time being. The two-week break allowed injured Jets Matt Halischuk, Evander Kane and Jim Slater more recovery time. All three are practising with the team, and Winnipeg needs to activate just two of them to have a full 23-man roster.

The presence of Redmond and O’Dell certainly has strengthened the IceCaps, but the reality is that the team had already begun a mid-season renaissance before their returns. St. John’s (32-19-4), which begins a seven-game home stand Friday night against the Binghamton Senators, has posted a 16-6-2 record since the New Year to move into fourth place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference.

St. John’s forward John Albert uses another date as a point of reference: Jan. 18, when the IceCaps lost 6-0 to the conference-leading Manchester Monarchs at Mile One Centre, a defeat that prompted a players-only, closed-door meeting. In the 16 games since, St. John’s has gone 12-3-1.

“I think every team needs something like that to get them going. It did for us. Ever since that game, guys have had a fire lit under them and we’re climbing in the standings,” said Albert, the reigning AHL player of the week.

“I remember for a while there we were a .500 team and people were asking when we were going to start putting some wins together and I remember doing some of interviews and saying be patient, that once this team figures things out and we get everyone going, we were going to win some games.

“I think we’ve figured it out and we’re winning games.”

Albert agreed with his coach’s assessment of team chemistry and goes so far as to suggest this IceCaps roster has even more cohesiveness than the group that went all the way too the Eastern Conference final two years ago.

“Yes, I would say that,” he said. “Every guy gets along with every other guy in the locker room. We joke with each other, but when things get serious, we stand up for each other.

“We hold each other accountable and that means you don’t want to let the guy next to you down. Most importantly, guys understand what it takes to win in this league.

“And all of that translates into points. I’m sure of it.

“I love playing for these guys here. I think we have the talent to take it far this year. I’ve been saying that for a long time. I think we have the work ethic and the confidence in the room to take it far, to be a good playoff team.”

Organizations: IceCaps, NHL, Winnipeg Jets Binghamton Senators

Geographic location: Winnipeg

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