© Telegram file photo
St. John’s IceCaps captain Jason Jaffray is listed as “day-to-day” by the team after sitting out the last game of the team’s Eastern Conference semifinal against the Norfolk Admirals. His status for Game 1 of the conference final Saturday night in St. John’s is unclear. — Telegram file photo
IceCaps trying to stay sharp as they await conference finals opponent
Given the St. John’s IceCaps’ regular season schedule, the team is well accustomed to five-day breaks between games, meaning this lengthy six-day layoff in the midst of the Calder Cup playoffs shouldn’t have an adverse affect on a club which opens the Eastern Conference final Saturday night at home.
On at least nine occasions this season, not including the Christmas break, the IceCaps had five days off between games as the team primarily played weekend dates, either Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday.
The IceCaps have been sitting idle since last Friday night, when they dispatched the Norfolk Admirals in six games following a 5-2 victory at Mile One Centre. Since then, they’ve watched as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Providence Bruins have beaten up on each other, an Eastern Conference semifinal series which culminated with a Game 7 last night in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
And while the rest is good, if nothing else to recharge the batteries and allow for bumps and bruises to heal, too much time off is not necessarily a good thing.
“We’re right on that line right now,” said St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge, who gave his charges a day off Wednesday following a pair of brisk practises Monday and Tuesday. “Add one or two more days to the amount of time off between playoff games and then there’s a concern you’re losing your edge.
“I believe we’re right on that edge of that. If we had won Game 5 in Norfolk, that would have been, in my opinion, too long of a period of time to be off.”
The IceCaps and Admirals split a pair of games in St. John’s to open their second round-playoff series, and the IceCaps took two of three games at The Scope in Norfolk. The IceCaps lost their chance of taking the series in Game 5 with a 3-2 setback.
McCambridge’s big test this week has been to ensure his team’s edge isn’t lost. The IceCaps are 7-3 in the playoffs entering Saturday’s conference final Game 1, which gets under way at 7:30 p.m. (930AM, Rogers TV and Eastlink).
“We’ve had two rigorous, up-tempo practices, a chance today (Wednesday) to rest and get back on the ice Thursday and Friday,” he said. “When you look at a practice plan, it’s never good to do five consecutive practices. And you want break up the week so it’s not monotonous with regards to same practice routine every day.”
In the meanwhile, McCambridge, assistant coaches Mark Morrison and Jason King and video coach Ian Anderson have been pouring over video of the Penguins and Bruins in preparation for the next round.
“Thursday,” he said, “when we finally know who we’re playing, we’ll start to implement certain tactics we think we might be able to have success with in certain areas.”
In the meantime, Jason Jaffray remains listed as “day-to-day” after sitting out the last game against the Admirals due to injury.
Jaffray, the elder statesman on the IceCaps at age 32, has been a steady performer for St. John’s with a pair of goals and four assists in nine games.
He missed practice on the eve of the IceCaps’ clinching win against Norfolk, and hasn’t been on the ice this week.
Jaffray, who appeared in all 76 games this season, and nine playoff games, was the IceCaps’ leading scorer this season with 18 goals and 59 points.
“He brings an intensity to the ice and to the (dressing) room,” McCambridge said. “He brings that older, veteran leadership voice to the room. The relationship between the coach and captain is always a strong one, and has been that way with Jason over the time I’ve had him here.
“He’s always been good at relaying the message to the team. When we leave the room in between periods, that message between Jaffray and the rest of our team continues to get pushed through.”
The IceCaps made the playoffs two years ago — they reached the Eastern Conference final, before losing to the eventual Calder Cup champion Admirals — and Jaffray missed the entire post season with a neck injury that was feared to be possibly career-ending.
“Now look where he is,” McCambridge said. “There’s a driven player.
“Every single game, whether he’s playing with injury, or whether he’s playing three games in three nights and logging heavy minutes, you’re still going to get an unbelieveable amount of compete out of Jason Jaffray.
“You can’t put a price on that because your young players look and see this. They may think they don’t feel like giving it their all on a certain day, and then they look at him. They see a veteran who has played a long time, going to the hard areas of the ice, taking all the hard hits, giving hits, being a key player.
“It raises their level of compete. He just sets the tone every single day, and what he brings to the ice is invaluable.”
Hopefully he can bring it Saturday night.