Some obvious storylines for IceCaps' next series

Brendan McCarthy
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St. John's won't know opponent Eastern Conference final opponent until Wednesday; Providence, Wilkes-Barre going to a Game 7

Updated to show Wilke-Barre/Scrantion-Providence series still not decided; adds Memorial Cup item

Some things to consider now that the St. John’s IceCaps have advanced to the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference final by defeating the Norfolk Admirals in a second-round Calder Cup playoff series:

• At least St. John's captain Jason Jaffray, who missed Friday's series-clinching win over Norfolk, (along with any other hurting teammates) will have considerable time to heal. While the IceCaps still don't know their opponent for the Eastern Conference final, they do know it won’t begin until Saturday at Mile One Centre, with Game 2 of the best-of-seven series there on Sunday.

Both those games will have 7:30 p.m. starts.

It will be either the Providence Bruins or Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coming out of the visitors dresssing room at Mile One. Their conference semifinal is going to a Game 7 after the P-Bruins' 4-1 victory in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Monday night. The series-decider is also there Wednesday night.

The Penguins outshout the Bruins 36-17 in Game 6, but Providence got two goals and an assist from rookie forward Alexander Khokhlachev and 35 saves fron netminder Niklas Svedberg to extend the series to the limit.

Whomever the opponent, St. John’s will have home-ice-advantage in the connference final and it will be a 2-3-2 affair in terms of home and away games.

• For their first two playoff series this spring, the IceCaps took on teams (Albany and Norfolk) that they hadn’t faced in the regular season. That won’t be the case this time around.

The IceCaps played the division-rival P-Bruins eight times this season, going 4-3-1.

They split a four-game season series with Wilkes-Barre, which they’ve faced in prior post-season play, having taken a seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal from the Penguins in 2011-12.

• Whether it’s Providence or Wilkes-Barre facing St. John’s in the next round, there are some obvious storylines.

With the Penguins, it’s presence of two former IceCaps — goaltender Peter Mannino and right-winger Spencer Machacek, the IceCaps’ leading scorer in 2011-12, their inaugural season.

Machacek, 25, came to Wilkes-Barre in a February trade (for Paul Thompson) after having started the season with the Springfield Falcons and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ organization. Overall, he had 19 goals and 33 points in 56 AHL games in 2013-14.

Mannino, 30, started the season in Wilkes-Barre, but was actually suspended by the AHL team last November when he refused an assignment to Wheeling of the ECHL. He did eventually report to Wheeling and was soon brought back to Wilkes-Barre, where he finished the regular season strongly and rolled that into the playoffs, where he’s played every minute of Wilkes-Barre’s nine post-season games to date.

• In all, Mannino appeared in 18 AHL games this season — mostly during Wilkes-Barre’s stretch run — finishing with an 11-4 record, 1.76 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. Those numbers helped the Penguins secure the Harry ‘Hap’ Holmes Memorial Award for the lowest team goals-against average in the league this season, although Mannino won’t get his name on the trophy because he didn’t appear in the required 25 games.

Instead, the engraver will place the names of Jeff Deslauriers and Eric Hartzell, neither of whom have dressed for a playoff game this spring.

Deslauriers is said to be done for the season because of injury, while Matt Murray, who joined Wilkes-Barre after having been with Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL this season, has backed up Mannino for every playoff game so far.

• Now that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, there is no team participating in the Calder Cup playoffs whose parent team is still involved in the NHL post-season.

The Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Texas Stars (Dallas) will meet in the Western Conference final now that the Stars have knocked off the defending Calader Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit) in six games. The Western final begins Friday in Austin, Tex.

After Pittsburgh was knocked off by the New York Rangers, the Penguins sent dangerous forward Brian Gibbons (30 points in 29 AHL games this season) to Wilkes-Barre. Gibbons played 41 games in Pittsburgh (5G, 12A) and even saw some time on Sidney Crosby’s line.

There had been thought that scoring winger Matt Fraser, who had spent most of the season in Providence, would end up back there after playing with the big Bruins in the playoffs. However, reports say Fraser’s season’s is done as he requires surgery for a foot injury suffered in the P-Bruins’ first playoff series with Springfield.

 • Jets’ prospect and likely future IceCap forward Scott Kosmachuk had three assists as the Ontario Hockey League Guelph Storm doubled up on the QMJHL champs Val-d’Or Foreurs 6-3 in Memorial Cup round-robin play play Monday night.

The result gives the Storm (2-0) a bye into Sunday’s final despite having one more preliminary-round to play Wednesday night against the host London Knights.

Kosmachuk, a 2012 third-round draft selection by Winnipeg is already signed to an entry-level contract, and is the only Jets’ draft pick participating in the four-team tourney, but it should be noted that defenceman Zach Bell is playing for London.

The St. John’s-born, Ontario-raised Bell attended the IceCaps’ training camp last fall and played 14 games for St. John’s ECHL affiliate, the Ontario (Calif.) Reign, before the Knights traded for his OHL rights (from North Bay) and convinced him to come to London to play an overage junior season.

Still, the Jets/IceCaps organization is said to have some interest in Bell and a return to St. John’s next training camp in September is a possibility for him.

In addition to what was learned about Bell at the 2013 St. John’s camp, it’s also been discovered he’s a quick healer. The rearguard broke his leg in a March 27 OHL playoff game and was deemed to be lost for the season, but he’s come back earlier than scheduled to play in the Memorial Cup.

 

bmcc@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Pittsburgh Penguins, IceCaps, Columbus Blue Jackets Texas Stars Boston Bruins NHL Toronto Maple Leafs New York Rangers

Geographic location: Wilkes-Barre, Providence, Albany Norfolk Sault Ste. Marie Dallas Detroit Pittsburgh

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