The St. John' IceCaps won't hit the official halfway mark of their 76-game 2013-14 American Hockey League schedule until the second week of January, but given they are coming off a 10-day Christmas break, it's easy to consider them as having hit the midway pole as they resume action tonight (9 p.m. Newfoundland time) in Worcester, Mass., against the Sharks,
For St. John's (15-11-3), tonight's game is the first of a three-game holiday weekend that concludes Monday with a New Year's Eve afternoon contest (4:30 p.m.) in Springfield, where they take on the Falcons.
In between, on Saturday night (8:30 p.m.), they tangle with the league-leading Manchester Monarchs.
The games will certainly provide a good test for the IceCaps, given the Monarchs (21-5-5) and Falcons (20-5-2) sit 1-2 in the AHL's Eastern Conference, while the Sharks (12-11-2) have won all three meetings with St. John's to date.
The trio of contests also provides a preview of what will be - in geographical terms - the biggest part of St. John's remaining road schedule; 19 of the 22 away games the team has from now until the end of the regular schedule will be played In New England, in the corridor between southern Maine and Bridgeport, Conn.
Tonight's contest against the Sharks will also part of another trend in the New Year as 25 of IceCaps' remaining games are versus Atlantic Division opponents.
That's actually one more than the two dozen divisional games St. John's played in all of 2012-13. That shift to a schedule that is heavily weighted towards inter-divisional dates had been one of the chief off-season goals of the IceCaps.
Two roster changes for St. John's since its last game, a 3-2 loss to the Toronto Marlies Dec 15: centre John Albert was returned from the Winnipeg Jets, while defenceman Julian Melchiori was recalled by the parent club on Boxing Day after Winnipeg placed rearguard Grant Clitsome on injured reserve, retroactive to Dec. 17. This is Melchiori's second recall by the Jets this season, but he has yet to appear in an NHL game ... The IceCaps return home next week to prepare for an eight-game homestand that starts a week from Saturday against the Portland Pirates ... Worcester sits second-last in the 15-team Eastern Conference, but has played fewer games (25) than any team in the AHL, meaning it has four games in hand on the IceCaps, who are tied for seventh in the conference ...