IceCaps’ trip the playoffs won’t be a holiday

‘We are not just a team of tourists,’ says Hudon


Published on April 21, 2017

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Now that the St. John’s IceCaps have avoided an early vacation, Charles Hudon says they are determined to prove they are more than token playoff participants.

“We want to show all the league that we are not just a team of tourists who play just to play,” said Hudon this week as the IceCaps prepared for their first-round American Hockey League playoff series against their North Division rival, the Syracuse Crunch, beginning tonight at Mile One Centre.

“We’re there to show there is a reason to be there and not just because we made the playoffs on the last day of the season.”

Of the 16 teams about to embark on the quest that is the 2017 Calder Cup playdowns, the IceCaps bring the lowest winning percentage. At .539, it is considerably poorer than the .605 of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who finished fifth in the Atlantic Division and out of the post-season picture. That record would have allowed the Sound Tigers to take the spot the IceCaps now occupy had the AHL not changed its playoff qualification rules over the summer. If this had been last spring, Bridgeport would have been able to cross over from the Atlantic Division to the North with its superior record and dislodge the IceCaps. But this season, there was no such cross-over option. It was simply the case of the top four teams in each division advancing.

So the IceCaps are in. Some might even say they snuck in.

Hudon doesn’t care. For him, all that matters is that he and his teammates are still playing.

“At the start of the season, all we wanted as a team was to be playing in the playoffs, to have a chance to play for the Cup,” he said.

“Now we are there, in the playoffs. Personally, my motivation is to play for championship. It doesn’t matter where you finish. If that isn’t (your) motivation when you go in the playoffs, you shouldn’t be playing.”

In each of his four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Hudon played in the post-season, 50 games in all, including 22 in 2014 when he was part of a Baie Comeau Drakkar side that went all the way to the QMJHL final. But he has never suited up in a playoff game as a pro, missing out with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2015 and the IceCaps last season.

“As I said, you start every season thinking you are going to make the playoffs. I found out it doesn’t happen,” he said. “So that is even more motivation.”

Games 1 and 2 of the series with Syracuse are tonight and Saturday night at Mile One.

The Crunch, the farm team of the Tampa Bay Lightning, finished first in the North, but just eight points ahead of the IceCaps. What’s more, the teams split their eight-game regular-season series, with each team winning four times in regulation.

You can expect that Hudon’s line — he skates with centre Chris Terry and fellow winger Nikita Scherbak — will be a defensive focus for Syracuse. Between them, Terry, with 30 goals, and Hudon, with 27, accounted for well more than 25 per cent of St. John’s tally total of 216 in the regular season.

“They are a good team with good players and good goalies,” said Hudon of the Crunch, who will reportedly start veteran Mike McKenna between the pipes tonight.

“But we will be ready. Like I said, we’ve been ready since the start of the season.”

 

Juulsen joining IceCaps

Defenceman Noah Juulsen, the Canadiens’ first-round pick (26th overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, is expected to join the IceCaps sometime today. Juulsen, who turned 20 earlier this month, had seven goals and 21 assists in 63 games for the WHL’s Everett Silvertips this season and also played with Canada’s silver medal team at the world junior championship.

Juulsen is the second blueline prospect of the Canadiens to join the team this week. Eighteen-year-old Victor Mete, a fourth-round draft pick last June, is the other.

 

bmcc@thetelegram.com