Take the Syracuse Crunch, who face the St. John’s IceCaps in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs beginning this weekend at Mile One Centre. The Crunch are the affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who didn’t make it past the regular season in the NHL. After the Lightning’s season ended, they assigned a half-dozen players to Syracuse, including former IceCaps Gabriel Dumont and Michael Bournival, fellow forwards Adam Erne, Yanni Gourde and Cory Conacher, and defenceman Jake Dotchin.
With the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the IceCaps didn’t get any such help, although there is actually only one player on the Canadiens’ roster — centre Michael McCarron — who would be eligible to play for St. John’s.
So for the IceCaps, it is a very much of a case of what they have being what they’ve got.
And what they’ve got is pretty much what they’ve had for the past two months. Defenceman Brett Lernout and Charlie Lindgren had brief call-ups to Montreal, winger Daniel Carr has been out for almost three weeks with a concussion and there has been small changes involving players at the bottom of the roster, but for the most part, it’s been a very stable lineup for St. John’s.
Veteran defenceman Julien Brouillette says that’s a very good thing, perhaps even an advantage for the IceCaps.
“Everything we did, everything we went through in getting to the playoffs the last month-and-a-half, two months, it’s been with the same guys. And we like that,” said Brouillette.
“The movement up and down (between the AHL and NHL) is part of the game. Sometimes, teams get guys down from the NHL. Sometimes, guys get called up. That’s all fine.
“But we like what we’ve been able to build up. Everyone knows their exact role and we’ve found ways to get the right guys in the right place on the right lines.”
In the AHL, lines don’t stay together very long, but the St. John’s top three lines have mostly remained intact down the stretch, with team MVP Chris Terry between Charles Hudon and Nikita Scherbak, a unit featuring the IceCaps’ top three scorers; Jacob de la Rose centring captain Max Friberg and Stefan Matteau making a dependable two-way combination; and rookie Daniel Audette flanked by Yannick Veilleux and Bobby Farnham on an ‘energy’ line.
“We do feel it’s a good thing,” said head coach Sylvain Lefebvre about the recent stability of the IceCaps’ roster. “And it’s not just that we’ve been able to stay together, but it’s also what we’ve been doing together. We’ve been playing to make the playoffs and nothing changes in that regard to intensity, except it’s going to go up a little bit.”
Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-five matchup with the Crunch are Friday and Saturday at Mile One Centre, with the team moving to Syracuse, N.Y. for the remainder of the series next week.
Where there is considerable distance between AHL first-round playoff opponents, as there is in this case, the series are always two games in one location followed by three in the other. The higher-seeded team — in this case, Syracuse — decides if it wants to begin with two games at home or potentially get the extra home game by starting on the road.
The Crunch — as almost all teams have done in such cases — chose the latter. But that’s something else Brouillette sees as perhaps being in the IceCaps’ favour.
“I think we’re lucky to start at home. Syracuse is a tough barn to play in,” he said.
Carr has been skating in practice in a non-contact jersey. Lefebvre said the has progressed well through the concussion protocol, but as of Tuesday, there hadn’t been a decision on whether he might be able to play in the series or even travel to Syracuse next week.
“He’s going to practice (Wednesday) and we’ll if he’s going to be able to go full tilt with the team. Then we’ll go to Thursday and see what happens,” said Lefebvre.