© — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
The St. John’s IceCaps’ Jason Jaffray clears away a rebound before the Texas Stars’ Chris Mueller (17) can capitalize as blueliner Ben Chiarot (18) and netminder Michael Hutchinson look on during Game 3 of the American Hockey League Calder Cup Finals Wednesday night at Mile One Centre. With a medical conference and trade show taking over Mile One this weekend, Game 4 won’t be played until Monday.
Calder Cup final opponents had plenty of lengthy layoffs this season
Much is being made of the fact we’re into four full days off between games in the American Hockey League Calder Cup final between the St. John’s IceCaps and Texas Stars. And no doubt, this doesn’t have the same rhythm of most playoff series, what with the first three games being played in four days — with lengthy travel in between — and now, no action between Thursday and Monday as Mile One Centre is taken over for a medical conference and trade show.
The Stars lead the best-of-seven series 2-1 after an overtime victory Wednesday night at Mile One.
Least-fazed by the break and what it means, however, are the two teams.
The Stars, and in particular, the IceCaps, are used to this sort of thing in the AHL, where weekend games are the norm and teams often find themselves finishing a three-in-three stretch on a Sunday and not playing again until the following Friday.
On seven occasions during the regular season, Texas had a hiatus of four or more days between games. Once, early in the schedule, the Stars were off for eight days. And they had a week off between their first-round playoff series with Oklahoma City and Grand Rapids.
So you could believe Stars’ head coach Willie Desjardins when he said his team will have no trouble staying on point between now on Monday night.
“It’s real easy. It’s the final. If we can’t stay focused for that, we don’t deserve to be here,” he said.
As for the IceCaps, there were 14 times during the regular season when they had breaks of similar length or longer — five of a full four days and nine that were five-days long. And that doesn’t count the 11 days off the team had at Christmas.
“This is what we deal with in the American Hockey League. In some ways, this is almost normal for us,” said IceCaps’ head coach Keith McCambridge.
“Is it different than what you had in the first three rounds (of the playoffs)? A little bit, maybe. But we’re not overanalyzing it and anyway, it’s the same for both teams. The main thing is how you deal with it.
“We’ve had lots of practice doing that all season.”
Then again, these four days also give the IceCaps a lot of time to chew on what might be seen as a particularly tough loss.
After tying Wednesday’s game 1-1 midway through the third, St. John’s had chances to win late in regulation and more early in overtime. The IceCaps also had a goal waved off early in the extra frame because it came after a whistle had quickly ended the play.
However, McCambridge refuses to label the game as a series-defining one.
“I wouldn’t consider it a morale blow. It’s part of the playoffs. We’re not down,” he said.
He won’t deny that having one or two days off between Games 3 and 4 might better allow his players to channel emotion — “Do you lose a little bit of an edge with regard to being disappointed and angry coming back with push-back game, right away? You do,” he said — but feels that what’s at stake in the next game, whenever it’s played, trumps all.
“We’ll get our best coming here in Game 4,” he predicted.
It’s a similar story no matter where you turn on the IceCaps, who are always efficient in getting out a shared message.
“A loss is a loss is a loss. A win is a win,” said team captain Jason Jaffray.
“If you lose 10-1 or 1-0, it’s the same in the playoffs. You have too put it behind you. If anything it should light a fire under a lot of these guys.”
And as for the break, Jaffray has no trouble finding a positive.
“After three games in four nights, I think the guys are looking forward to a couple of days off,” he said. “Four days might be a little much, but it certainly means there are no excuses come Game 4.
“And we have a couple of guys banged up. Maybe Jordan Hill (who missed Wednesday's game because of an injury) will be back in the lineup on Monday. So a guy like that is looking forward to the extra days off and I’m sure there are guys on their (the Texas) side who are banged up, too.
“You don’t get all the way to the finals without guys being banged up.”
And this from IceCaps' forward Josh Lunden.
“Whenever you have a break like this, sure, you’d rather have been on the other side of an overtime game,” he said, “but it was one game in a series, and we’ve always known this is going to be a long series. We never expected it to be a short one.
“Our emotion is for the series as whole.”