What might have been and what could be

IceCaps enter off-season with roster decisions looming ahead of final campaign in St. John’s

Published on June 18, 2014
Blair Riley beats Texas Stars’ netminder Cristopher Nilstorp to give the St. John’s IceCaps a 3-2 lead in the third period of Game 5 of the Calder Cup final Tuesday night at Mile One Centre. The Stars would go on to tie the game and collect their third straight overtime win (4-3)  to become 2013-14 Calder Cup champions.
— Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Overtime has sometimes been called extra fun.
On Tuesday night, it was nothing but delayed heartbreak for the St. John's IceCaps and their fans as the Texas Stars won their third straight overtime game at Mile One Centre to claim the Calder Cup and their first-ever American Hockey League championship.
Patrick Nemeth, with the only Texas goal scored in these playoffs by a Stars defenceman not named Derek Meech, finished it with a backhand shot that beat Michael Hutchinson at 14:30 of the first OT.

It suddenly ended what has been a long season for both clubs, the difference being that while it sparked the start of a revelry for the Stars that will continue on their return home today to Cedar, Park, Tex., and carry over into a short off-season, it sends the IceCaps into "what might have been" contemplation and what will be a rapid clew-up to 2013-14.

It was a very, very good season - you can't get as far as St. John's did without that being the case - but the length of the journey also has an exponential effect, making the hurt that much worse, for everyone associated with the team.

The IceCaps' front office was in scramble mode Tuesday. A St. John's win in Game 4 the night before would have made things so much easier, as it would have guaranteed a return trip to Texas. But the IceCaps had lost that one, also in overtime and also by a 4-3 score. So there had to be plans for two scenarios - "and 53 versions of those," said one insider during Tuesday's game.

One they didn't mind talking about - an IceCaps' win and an extended series with travel. The other was worked out with the minimum amount of talk - because it involved the worst case - a home-ice loss and having to watch the visiting Stars lifting the Calder Cup in celebration.

Alas, for the IceCaps, team management and the backers, that's what happened, although credit the fans with a rousing thank-you for their team in the minutes after the end of the game.

And now a quick and often awkward transition from the heat of the playoffs to the wind-down, which will see exit meetings players begin Thursday.

There's bound to be at least as many "Goodbyes" as "See you in Septembers."

A number of youngsters are signed for 2014-15, including defencemen Julian Melchiori and Brendan Kichton, forwards Adam Lowry, Austen Brassard and JC Lipon, and goalie Jussi Olkiniuora, along with forwards Ryan Olsen and Scott Kosmachuk and goalie Conor Hellebuyck, three who have contracts, but haven't yet played a pro game.

Restricted free agents, whose rights retention can be determined by the parent Winnipeg Jets, include forwards Carl Klingberg, John Albert and Patrice Cormier, defenceman Ben Chiarot and goalie Eddie Pasquale, all who have been IceCaps for the three years of the team's existence. Also falling into that category is netminder and mid-season revelation Hutchinson, whose name the Mile One faithful chanted as AHL president Dave Andrews prepared to announce the Calder Cup MVP award, which went to the Stars' Travis Morin.

Andrew Gordon, the IceCaps' leading scorer in the playoffs, Zach Redmond, who played one of his best games as an IceCap Tuesday, and Jerome Samson are set to become unrestricted free agents in a couple of weeks with the expiration of their NHL deals.

Rookie defenceman Josh Morrissey, who won't be age-eligible to play in the AHL next year, will either be back in junior or with the Jets.

And then there are passel of players who were operating under AHL contracts this season: defencemen Will O'Neill, Jordan Hill, Kris Fredheim and Cody Lampl, forwards Kael Mouillierat, Blair Riley, Kyle MacKinnon, Josh Lunden and Ryan Schnell.

A lot of heart and soul guys there, but none more so than captain Jason Jaffray, who was signed for one year. On Tuesday night, he said there hadn't yet been any discussion about his returning.

It wasn't a night to contemplate his future anyway, even less so to dwell too much about the immediate past because he well knows it will be impossible to forget

"It's going to sting for a long time. I remember in '08 losing to Hershey in Game 6 and it was at home," said Jaffray, recalling six years ago, when he was with the Manitoba Moose and the Bears took the title with a victory in Winnipeg.

"They were parading our trophy around our city and it still stings to this day.

"The fans have been so great here, we didn't want to lose, especially on our home turf.

"The appreciation we got, even after they scored (the game-winner) ... the cheers we got, the chants we got, were amazing."

Head coach Keith McCambridge has a year left on his contract, but his success with the IceCaps - getting them to the conference final two years ago and to the final this year, has got his name included in chatter about possible promotion - in some fashion - to the next level.

His attention to detail, including an absolute passion for video study, is part of what has him in that conversation, but even McCambridge is ready to set that work aside,

"My computer, after having just looked at that last goal, has been put away for the summer," he said.

"It will be put away for quite a while.

"This one is will be a tough one once it sinks in, that's for sure."