Winger Max Friberg, acquired in the trade that saw the Montreal Canadiens send goaltender Dustin Tokarski to the Anaheim Ducks, made his St. John’s IceCaps debut on Saturday, becoming the 36th different player to suit up with the IceCaps so far this season.
©St. John’s IceCaps photo/Jeff Parsons
Fifteen months ago, the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens swung a trade that required two of the principles — forwards Erik Tangradi and Patrick Holland — to simply change dressing rooms at Mile One Centre. The deal, which saw the Habs ship goalie Peter Budaj and Holland to the Jets for Tangradi, came just before the St. John’s IceCaps — then Winnipeg’s farm team — and the Hamilton Bulldogs — the Canadiens’ affiliate at the time — were to play an exhibition game at Mile One, with both Holland and Tangradi in the building.
The complete opposite of that transaction, at least when it comes to distance travelled, came last week when the Canadiens sent another netminder, Dustin Tokarski, to the Anaheim Ducks for winger Max Friberg, who was playing with the Ducks’ American Hockey League farm club, the San Diego Gulls and who was immediately re-assigned to the IceCaps, Montreal’s farm team.
Within the AHL, there can be no longer one-way trip than the trek between San Diego, on the very southwest corner of the United States, and St. John’s, on North America’s northeast edge, and it was that 5,600-kilometre journey that Friberg embarked on Friday.
“A little bit long, but it wasn’t too bad,” said the 23-year-old Swede about his journey from southern California to Newfoundland. “Everything went pretty smoothly, just one change. As good as you can expect, I think.”
He wishes he could say the same about his first game with St. John’s, which came Saturday as the IceCaps produced their second stink bomb in as many nights against the Portland Pirates, losing 4-1.
Friberg was pointless, with three shots and a minus one rating, and his first bonding experience with his new mates may have been the shared frustration of a team that follows up one substandard effort at home (the Pirates beat the IceCaps 5-1 Friday) with another.
“No excuses. During the game, I felt fine,” said Friberg, who had five goals and 12 assists in 25 games with San Diego. “ I hope to play a little bit better (tonight, when the IceCaps host the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Mile One).
“And yeah, hopefully, we can put in a better team effort, but it means me doing my part. Myself, I know I can play better.”
IceCaps’ head coach Syvain Lefebvre was more forgiving.
“There’s always (a need) for time to adapt to a new team and new players and a new system, but for a guy who came in just the night before after a long trip and that (four-and-a-half hour) time change, I liked what I saw,” said Lefebvre. “Yes, there were mistakes here and there, but not because he didn’t try.”
That doggedness, along with strength of character, are oft-mentioned traits by those who have followed the newest IceCap.
“Max is just going to give you everything he has. It’s literally that simple,” San Diego coach Dallas Eakins told canadiens.com when asked about Friberg, who was an assistant captain in San Diego.
“The great thing about Max is you’ll never have to worry about his attitude.
“He’s easily going to be a leader wherever he goes. He understands how to do it. This is a young man (who carries) himself like a seasoned veteran. He’s a slam dunk as a leader.”
Friberg has always had offensive abilities, as showcased in the 2012 world junior championship, when he led gold medal-winning Sweden in scoring and was a tournament all-star. He also posted 40 points in his first two full AHL seasons. But ask Friberg for a self-assessment and he’ll describe himself as a two-way player who takes pride in his work in the defensive zone. At the other end, he sees himself as one who “likes to be hard-working, getting in on the forecheck, working those pucks out of the corner and getting them to the net.”
On Monday, in his first full practice with the IceCaps, the right-shooting Friberg, who can play either wing, was on the right side of a line with Lucas Lessio and Marcus Eisenschmid. And he was still in a getting-to-know-them mode on a team where his only connections were with fellow countryman Jacob de la Rose and veteran Bud Holloway, both nodding acquaintances from their time playing against him in the Swedish Elite League.
“I’ve never experienced anything like (the trade),” said Friberg “I guess the closest I can come to this feeling is when I went to Norfolk (Anaheim’s former farm team, in 2013) and played the last six games of the season after finishing in Sweden.
“And this is different than that, but the guys have been taking great care of me and making me feel welcome.
“It’s always surprising when something like that happens, but you have to look on it as an opportunity. You don’t know what to think when it first happens, but it feels good to be here now.”
Tonight’s game against the Penguins will be the 36th of the season for St. John’s. It just happens Friberg is the 36th player to have suited up with the team this season ... Atlantic Division-leading Wilkes-Barre (26-8-0) arrives in St. John’s for a two-game set (the teams also play Wednesday night) with the second-best record in the entire AHL, behind only the Toronto Marlies ... The Penguins average 3.4 goals per game, third-highest in the league, and have permitted only 2.11 goals per contest, second-best in the AHL ... Wilkes-Barre’s top scorer is rookie Dominic Simon (12-17-29) ... The IceCaps and Penguins played twice earlier this season in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., with the Pens winning 5-2 and 4-1 ... For those two games, the Penguins’ head coach was Mike Sullivan, but Sullivan has since taken over the parent team in Pittsburgh after the firing of Mike Johnston. The new Wilkes-Barre head coach is Clark Donatelli, who had been with the Penguins’ ECHL affiliate in Wheeling ... Donatelli is the third head coach for the AHL Penguins in just over half a year. Former bench boss John Hynes was hired as the New Jersey Devils’ head coach in the off-season ... IceCaps’ rookie winger Nikita Scherbak, who hasn’t played since Nov. 13, when he was levelled by an open-ice hit by Viktor Loov of the Marlies, practised, with contact, on Monday for the first time since being injured ...