© — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
St. John’s IceCaps winger Andrew Gordon (10) is congratulated by teammates Jason Jaffray (15), John Albert (rear) and Zach Redmond (24) after scoring the first of three goals he netted in the team’s series-clinching 4-1 win over the Albany Devils in Game 4 of their best-of-five American Hockey League Eastern Conference quarter-final this past Friday at Mile One Centre.
Team MVP’s ‘championship pedigree’ on display as IceCaps advance in AHL post-season
One of the things Andrew Gordon learned on the way to winning a pair of Calder Cup championship rings with the Hershey Bears a few years back was knowing when to throw the knockout punch when the opponent is on the ropes.
“The thing about winning,” Gordon was saying Friday night, “is that until you win, you don’t learn how hard it is.
“After you’ve won, you can almost pinpoint a game, or a shift, or a play when the other team’s been broken. They start to get a little more frustrated, a little more chippy, instead of focusing on their game plan.
“You learn to play consistently because if the game plan is effective and working, it wears teams down and you can see them break.
“Going into that third period tonight,” he was saying after the St. John’s IceCaps punched their ticket to the next playoff round, “down by a couple, as a human being, it’s easier to quit than it is to never say die and keeping clawing back. You have to make a team quit, beat them into submission over a course of five, six or seven games.
“We beat them down tonight.”
No kidding. And it was Gordon throwing the flurry of uppercuts and round-house punches, scoring three goals — a power play goal, shorthanded goal and one at even strength — as the IceCaps finished off the Albany Devils 4-1 before a frenzied Mile One Centre house Friday.
St. John’s won the best-of-five American Hockey League first-round playoff series 3-1, and now open against the Norfolk Admirals in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal starting Tuesday night at home.
Gordon, a seven-year pro from Porters Lake, N.S., won back-to-back AHL championship rings with the Bears in 2009 and 2010, a young pup just a year out of Minnesota’s St. Cloud State University.
The hard-working winger, skating on the right side on the IceCaps No. 1 unit with captain Jason Jaffray and pivot John Albert, is 28 now, a grizzled veteran with 55 NHL games to his credit, and one of the true leaders on a youthful IceCaps club.
“The way he played tonight,” St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge was saying after the series-clincher, “not only by the numbers, but by the way he played with such energy, he showed good leadership.
“He has a championship pedigree, and that really came through tonight.”
Gordon is a genuine good guy, a player who shows up to the rink every day with a smile on his face.
“All season long,” McCambridge said, “Andrew Gordon was an excellent leader, not only by saying the right things and being able to back it up with the way he plays, but by leading by example, which is very important to us as a coaching staff.
“For young players, in a developmental league, the example that Andrew Gordon sets in practice and games and coming up with a huge performance in a big game is the reason why we wanted him in this organization.
“He’s the real deal … an absolute home run of a signing.”
The IceCaps’ MVP this season finished the year with 23 goals and 57 points, second only to Jaffray’s 59 points.
It was one of his better years as a pro, but a far cry from the 71 points he counted as a Bear in 2010, when they won it all.
Given his post-season experience, Gordon was sharing his knowledge to the younger IceCaps through the regular season and first round, reminding the St. John’s players to keep the foot on the gas pedal and if the opportunity arises, lap the Devils.
“We knew coming into this game, and Jaffray and I were stressing it to the guys, that you have to put them down because once they’re down a couple of goals, that’s when they know they’re done.
“It’s easier to try hard, but not that hard. It’s easier to go on home than it is to play us again the next night, to block that shot, to take that hit to make a play.
“You don’t need to do that unless you really want to win. You have to want it more, and you have to put a team in a position to make them quit.
“It took us almost four full games to do that, but we worked them into a position where we just outplayed them.”
Other than Game 4, it was a relatively close series with St. John’s winning Game 1 2-1, Albany rebounding with a 4-2 decision in Game 2 (with three power play goals) and the IceCaps skating away with a 1-0 decision in Game 3.
But as anyone in hockey will tell you, it’s a good thing to get an early test, as opposed to waltzing through the first round before meeting a tougher opponent in later rounds.
Kind of like international play, when close, tight-checking games in the round-robin prepares teams for the tough playoff round.
“You have to get comfortable in uncomfortable situations because they’re going to happen,” said Gordon, a late pick (197th overall) by the Washington Capitals in 2004.
“You’re going to be in a triple overtime at some point and you can’t be nervous. We have all the faith in the world in our goaltender, all the faith in the world in our defence. We had close games, quite a few of them of late, and earlier in the year we were on the receiving end of a few one-goal losses. We remember how much that stings.
“We’re comfortable with our game no matter what the situation is. We play the same way no matter if it’s 2-1 or 6-1, and I think that’s the mark of a good team. That’s what you have to do in the playoffs, play consistently to make other teams say, ‘Geez, I don’t want to play those IceCaps again.”