The celebration was in full swing inside the St. John’s IceCaps dressing room just after 10 o’clock Tuesday night. Andrew Gordon, said by some to be the glue that helps keep together the IceCaps, was bouncing about on the blue carpet, hugging and high-fiving everyone and anyone. Fellow veteran Jason Jaffray, most of his gear now removed save for the hockey pants and skates, sat at his stall taking it all in.
Two veterans who have been there, and done that. One’s won an American Hockey League championship. The other’s come close.
Both are yearning to win a Calder Cup for St. John’s.
“I was just sitting back and thinking that it takes a lot to get back to the finals,” said Jaffray, the IceCaps captain, after St. John’s blanked Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 5-0 Tuesday night at Mile One Centre, disposing the Penguins in six games for the AHL’s Eastern Conference title.
The IceCaps now play for the Calder Cup against the Western Conference champion Texas Stars, owners of the league’s best record this season.
This final series begins in Cedar Park, Tex., with Games 1 and 2 Sunday and Monday night. It returns to St. John’s for three games next Wednesday, Monday, June 16 and Tuesday, June 17.
“I’m lucky,” said Jaffray, “to have another crack at a Calder Cup, and I’d really like to make the most of it.”
Jaffray played in an AHL final before, in 2008-09, when his Manitoba Moose came up short 4-2 in a best-of-seven series to the Hershey Bears.
And guess who was on that Bears team? That’s right, Gordon, at the time a second-year pro. Gordon would win again the following year, and this time the Bears beat an upstart Texas Stars, in the league for the first time that season.
“To play that hard throughout the season, through 100-plus games, and to come up short that year was absolutely devastating,” recalls Jaffray. “I don’t want to lose that chance again.”
Jaffray was Manitoba’s second-leading scorer that season, a year in which he was called up to the Vancouver Canucks for 14 games.
The Moose were 12-4 entering that ’09 final — St. John’s is 11-5 heading into Game 1 against Texas — and Jaffray recalls vividly the opening game played at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre.
The Moose led 2-1 after the first period, and 3-1 after two before Hershey scored three goals in the third for a 4-3 lead. Only a goal by Maxime Fortunus — yes, the same Maxime Fortunus who captains today’s Stars — with 1:16 to play in regulation time forced overtime.
Then the Bears’ Alexandre Giroux won it in the extra session, 13:33 in.
“I remember just feeling devastated,” Jaffray recalls. “To be up 3-1 going into the third, and lose in overtime ...
“One thing you learn is every game is so important, every shift is so important, every little detail to the game is so important. We lost Game 1 (in 2009) in overtime on a power play goal, so every little bounce is so important. You’re playing for your season.
“That said, there’s only two teams left, and 28 other teams would love to be in your position. I’m ecstatic to be one of those two teams.”
Jaffray will turn 33 the end of the month, and is on the back nine — heck, he may even be teeing off on No. 16 or 17 — of a pretty decent career, one that included some productive years in the minors (he led the IceCaps in scoring this year). But he knows this could be his last kick at the can, especially after suffering a near career-ending neck injury two years which caused his to miss the playoffs, and a tough 2012-13 campaign that saw St. John’s barred from the post-season dance.
“I definitely wanted to come back for another year,” said Jaffray, who signed on for one season last summer, “especially after coming back from the neck injury, and it being such a struggle last year. We lost so many close games, and it seemed like we were out of the playoffs with a month or two to go. It was definitely not the way I wanted to go out.
“Now I have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to win a Calder Cup in a city like St. John’s, where the fans have been so great to us. I’m excited just for the opportunity.”
Gordon was only two years removed from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota when he enjoyed the 2008-’09 playoff run with the Bears.
“The thing about winning,” Gordon was saying in these Calder Cup playoffs, “is that until you win, you don’t learn how hard it is.
“After you’ve won, you can almost pinpoint a game, or a shift, or a play when the other team’s been broken. They start to get a little more frustrated, a little more chippy, instead of focusing on their game plan.
“You learn to play consistently because if the game plan is effective and working, it wears teams down and you can see them break.”
Gordon, a seven-year pro from Porters Lake, N.S., was the IceCaps’ MVP this season with 23 goals and 57 points, second only to Jaffray's 59.
The two provide a veteran voice in the room. There may be two perspectives, but definitely one message — make the most of the moment.
“Jaffray and I stress to the guys, that you have to put teams down because once they're down a couple of games or a couple of goals in a game, that's when they know they’re done.
“It’s easier to try hard, but not that hard. It’s easier to go on home than it is to block that shot, to take that hit to make a play.
“You don't need to do that unless you really want to win. You have to want it more, and you have to put a team in a position to make them quit.”