The St. John’s IceCaps will play the final two games of a crucial six-game homestand this week versus the Albany Devils. So far, the IceCaps have just one win to show, a 6-1 victory on Saturday afternoon against the Syracuse Crunch. The IceCaps will need to pick up a couple of wins to set the tone for a stretch run leading into the playoffs.
The IceCaps began the homestand with a pair of losses to the baby Sens, a 3-2 overtime loss (OTL) and a 6-4 loss. With a home record sitting at 10-11-3 before the Syracuse Crunch series was set to begin, it would seem that the home cooking of toutons and molasses wasn’t fuelling the IceCaps as fans at the Mile One Centre would have hoped.
The IceCaps currently hold the last playoff berth in the AHL’s North Division and are real contenders for a place in the postseason. Chris Terry is running away with the St. John’s scoring race with 47 points in just 36 games, Charles Hudon is returning to form, and the team was bolstered by the return of Daniel Carr and Jacob de la Rose from the Canadiens.
The next 10 games are all against divisional opponents. St. John’s will play 20 of their remaining 24 games versus teams within the division, with only nine home dates remaining at Mile One. This places their playoff hopes squarely into their own hands. If they can find a way to produce wins, this would be the first playoff berth for a Canadiens affiliate since the Hamilton Bulldogs lost to the Houston Aeros in the AHL Eastern Conference finals in 2010-2011.
St. John’s is a city built by generations of hard work. The citizens of the city pride themselves on that hard-earned reputation. While this season may be the last professional hockey played locally for quite some time, perhaps the character of the city can rub off on the IceCaps. If so, there could be one more thing for the city to hold pride in, a championship that can lift not just the spirits of a city, but an entire province.
It was my sense that the prevailing feeling at Mile One Centre is one of hope. Personally, I hope that the IceCaps find some stability in the roster, and a rhythm where they can begin to play a more desperate style of play.
It’s fair to say that the fans in St. John’s are passionate and knowledgeable. They understand the limitations placed on their heroes being a farm system for the NHL. It appears that they have built attachments to players who spend a significant time with the franchise and provide hard-nosed hockey.
Bobby Farnham has already become a fan favourite in his short time with the IceCaps. They applaud his shifts that control the cycle, speed in transition, winning puck battles, and generate physical play as much as any goal he may score. The fans seem to be simply relishing the nuances of professional hockey while they still can.
After a difficult series against Binghamton, games against division-leading Syracuse Crunch began on the right foot for the IceCaps. They were able to get a complete team effort and control the game from start to finish. It helped the cause to have Jacob de la Rose score two, and to have a power-play that generated dozens of chances.
Stefan Matteau made a contribution in that game went beyond his goal and plus three. He provided defensively-responsible play while providing a prototypical power forward style. Although his time in St. John’s has been disappointing, he may be slowly rounding into the type of player he was drafted to be.
The NHL trade deadline is fast approaching, and the reaction of the Canadiens to general manager Marc Bergevin’s coaching change will have a direct impact on the IceCaps. Moves or trades that are made could decimate the St. John’s roster in order to address the needs of the big club. This could be detrimental to local hockey fans who wanted to watch a deep playoff run before they lose their professional hockey heroes, and before the AHL loses an ideal AHL city.
Edited by Donna Sim