Young and stingy

Brendan McCarthy
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Having given up 167 goals through their first 62 games, the St. John's IceCaps are well on pace for their stingiest season in their three-year AHL existence.
Solid goaltending from Eddie Pasquale in the first half of the campaign and Michael Hutchinson over the last two months have been big contributors in that regard, but so has a defensive corps that has performed with poise well beyond its overall experience.

Maybe its not patently obvious - Brenden Kichton is the only pro rookie on the blueline - but this is not a particularly seasoned group, at least compared to the IceCaps' first two seasons, when Derek Meech, Brett Festerling, Arturs Kulda, Travis Ramsey and Dean Arsene all arrived here having spent three or more seasons in the AHL.

Paul Postma was entering his fourth pro year when he started the 2013-13 campaign with St. John's, and then there were Mark Flood and Richard Petiot, who were with St. John's for briefer periods of time.

But discounting Postma's four-game conditioning stint around New Years, only Kris Fredheim, who played three seasons with the Houston Aeros prior to this season, really meets that criteria.

Jason Hill has been in the league since 2010, but spent parts of his first two seasons in the ECHL, while Cody Lampl has been a pro since 2009, but only played two AHL games prior to joining the IceCaps.

In fact, with Fredheim sidelined by injury the past eight weeks, Redmond had seniority amongst IceCaps' rearguards with just 155 combined NHL and AHL games, followed by Hill (147), Ben Chiarot (137), Will O'Neill (122), Julian Melchiori (93), Kichton (52) and Lampl (34).

Redmond's status could end soon. Fredheim, who has practised taking contact this week, travelled with the team for its six-game road trip, beginning tonight in Hartford against the Wolf Pack, and he could play in one of St. John's three games this weekend (the IceCaps face Bridgeport Saturday and Springfield Sunday).

But consider this: Even counting Fredheim's 241 games with Houston, St. John's and the NHL Minnesota Wild (for whom he played three games), the total AHL and NHL experience of the eight defencemen on the St. John's roster is still considerably less than put up by the combination of two Hartford blueliners, Aaron Johnson and Danny Syvret.

Neither is ancient - Syvret is 28 and Johnson is is still 30 - but between them, they have dressed for 1,085 games in the two leagues.

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Earlier this week, we ran a piece detailing Winnipeg Jets draft picks and prospects playing in the junior and college ranks, with a focus on which ones we could be seeing playing with the IceCaps this spring and/or fall.

But we left out one.

He's not a Jets' draft pick, isn't yet signed to a pro contract and isn't on Winnipeg's reserve list, but there is still a lot of organizational interest in defenceman Zach Bell, who attended the IceCaps' training camp last September. The St. John's-born, Ontario-raised Bell started this past season with the Ontario Reign, the Jets' affiliate in the ECHL, but after his Ontario Hockey League rights were traded from the North Bay Battalion to the London Knights, he returned to the OHL for his overage junior year.

In 40 games with the Knights, who had the OHL's third-best record in the just-completed regular season, the 21-year-old Bell had three goals, 14 assists, 53 penalty minutes and a plus-29 rating.

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Still with those Jets' prospects, defenceman Josh Morrissey's possible springtime stint with St. John's was delayed earlier this week when his Prince Albert Raiders downed the Red Deer Rebels in a tiebreaker game to determine the eighth seed in the Western Hockey Leagues Eastern Conference.

But the Raiders and Morrissey, who led all WHL defenceman with 28 goals, will be in tough in their first-round matchup with the two-time defending conference champion Edmonton Oil Kings.

The series could end as soon as Wednesday, and would be extended to April 1 if it goes the distance.

The same gives for another first-round WHL series involving a Jets prospect starring for an eighth seed. That would be goaltender Eric Comrie and the Tri-City Americans, who are taking on the Kelowna Rockets, owners of the best record in the WHL, in the first round.

It's rare for a teenage goalie (Comrie doesn't turn 19 until the summer) with remaining junior eligibility to show up in the AHL for a springtime stint, but Comrie, who is expected to be a finalist for the WHL's goalie of the year award, may be an exception if and when Tri-City's season ends.

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There isn't a coach in the league who won't tell you that it's too early to consider such things, but the AHL is now regularly posting its Calder Cup Playoff Primer on its website (theahl.com).

There are lots of stats in the primer, but the one worth the most attention is the magic number, which, for the IceCaps, is 19 heading tonight's game against the Wolf Pack. In other words, if St. John's goes at least 9-4-1 (or some points equivalent) in its remaining 14 games, it will make the post-season no matter what teams below it in the standings do. The IceCaps' magic number also decreases by the number of available points not earned by the ninth place team in the conference, which currently is the Hershey Bears.

Organizations: IceCaps, Winnipeg Jets, NHL Houston Aeros Ontario Hockey League Ontario Reign London Knights

Geographic location: St. John's, Hartford, New Years Houston Tri-City Winnipeg Ontario

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