The St. John’s IceCaps are hoping what was admittedly a gamble begins to pay off when they open their first-round Calder Cup playoff series Friday in Syracuse against the Crunch.
The roll of the dice came back in March with the acquisition of forward Brock Trotter in an American Hockey League deadline deal with the Portland Pirates. Trotter was injured at the time — he hadn’t played since mid-February — and there was no real guarantee he would play again this season.
The 25-year-old-Trotter had no real idea if he would, either.
“I wasn’t sure what the timeline would be,” he said. “We didn’t really want to put one on it, although I did know the main aim was to be back in time for the playoffs.”
Trotter appreciated the fact that despite the price the IceCaps paid — left-winger Kenndal McArdle and goalie Peter Mannino were sent to Portland in the deal — “the team was good about not rushing me back.
“I definitely never felt any pressure from the team or management. But obviously, if they wanted me for the playoff push, I definitely wanted to come here.
“And I like where I’m at. They’ve done a real good job of getting me ready for this.”
The injury, never described as anything more than the upper-body variety, led to Trotter seeing doctors in both Winnipeg and Hamilton and a resulted in a three-month recovery period. His only action with St. John’s came in a couple of games on the IceCaps’ regular season-ending road trip last weekend.
“It was a bit of a gamble,” said St. John’s head coach Keith McCambridge of the move to acquire Trotter.
“We always do a lot of research on a player we’re interested in. We always check their background, but with him we also wanted to find out if he could play (this season).
“For us, it was worth the gamble. It was worth it in the fact that (although) Kenndal McArdle was a good player for us, we already had that kind of piece of the puzzle. The Brock Trotter-type of player, we had a little of, but not enough.
“That’s why we took the chance.”
The Brock Trotter type, by the way, brings plenty of offence to the ice.
A native of Brandon, Man., he was a point-a-game player in back-to-back seasons in the Manitoba and United States junior leagues and was considered one of Western Canada’s best teenage prospects when he went to Denver University to play for the Pioneers in 2005.
But just five games into his collegiate career, came an injury that made what Trotter experienced this year seem like a minor setback.
In October of 2005, during a road game Grand Forks, N.D., Trotter suffered a severed Achilles tendon when his leg was accidently stepped on by the skate of North Dakota defenceman Matt Smaby (who these days plays for the Crunch).
Emergency surgery reattached the tendon and Trotter was told a fraction of an inch difference in the location of the injury might have resulted him in never playing hockey again. As it was, he had a full year of a sometimes difficult rehab before returning to the Pioneers, leading the team in scoring in 2006-07, again at a point-a-game pace (40 points in 40 games).
The next season, he and Tyler Bozak combined to give Denver a formidable one-two punch, and in February of 2008, Trotter’s name was again at the top of the Pioneers’ scoring list. But that’s when he abruptly left the school to sign with the Montreal Canadiens as a free agent (Trotter’s draft year had been the same one he lost to the Achilles tendon injury).
After two-plus seasons, 172 games with the Habs’ farm team in Hamilton and a two-game tasse de café with the Canadiens, Trotter signed to play with Riga Dynamo of Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League in 2010-11. However, he re-signed with the Canadiens last fall.
The reunion was brief. A couple of weeks after the start of this season, Trotter was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes for defenceman Garrett Stafford. He was assigned to Portland and leading the Pirates in scoring (38 points in 40 games) when he was injured.
IceCaps’ general manager Craig Heisinger and McCambridge were both well aware of Trotter’s talents from his time in Hamilton when the Bulldogs played the Manitoba Moose. Heisinger was Manitoba’s GM and McCambridge the Moose assistant coach when the Bulldogs, spurred by the offence of Trotter (19 points in 19 games) and David Desharnais, rolled over Manitoba on its way to the AHL’s Western Conference final, where they lost in seven games to the Texas Stars.
If McCambridge needed a reminder of Trotter’s talents, he got one in the IceCaps’ first-ever home game in October, when he had three assists, and a second star performance in a 4-0 Hamilton victory.
But Trotter was taking notice, too.
“I played against St. John’s for both Hamilton and Portland and from playing against them, you could tell how good a team they had here,” said Trotter, who is known as a power-play specialist.
“That was a big reason why we made that trade for him ... to help make that power play run,” said McCambridge.
Actually, to make it run better. The IceCaps’ power play, without Trotter, was ranked third in the AHL this season, so this is sort of like adding a turbo to an engine that’s already revving well.
“The dynamic with our two power-play units is that you have weapons (Paul Postma and Jason DeSantis) on the back end that can shoot the puck,” said McCambridge. “It hasn’t been one-dimensional, so Trotter just adds another dimension to it.”