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IceCaps AHL playoff preview: Kids on the rock

Jets' affiliate accomplished franchise-best season with solid work ethic; looking to continue solid effort in first-round series with Devils

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It's not Keith McCambridge's style to thump his chest and spit out a string of superlatives about his St. John's IceCaps.

Oh, he certainly could if he wished, as the IceCaps head into the opening round of the AHL's Calder Cup playoffs having established franchise records for wins, points, goals for and against.

But implore him to gush and the pride the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets' affiliate has in his crew is obvious.

"If anybody asks me how I define our team, it's as simple as this: We work. We work every single day," began McCambridge this week from Providence, R.I. where the club is practising in advance of tonight's Game 1 in Albany against the Devils.

"There's a mix of youth and good leadership. And they're all hard workers. That's what defines this team."

The parent club may be O-for-3 in its attempt to land a spot in the NHL playoffs, but the prospects down on The Rock have qualified for the post-season in two of their three years. The IceCaps advanced to the Eastern Conference final in 2011-12, missed the playoffs last year and head into this spring's playoffs with growing confidence.

That much was evident as the Jets closed up shop earlier this month and the players who helped build all that success in St. John's -- guys like Michael Hutchinson, Carl Klingberg, Eric O'Dell, Zach Redmond, Ben Chiarot and Patrice Cormier -- couldn't wait to get back to Newfoundland.

"They've spent the majority of the year in St. John's and so there is an investment there on their side on where our record sits, how we finished the year and, hopefully, how far we can go here in the first round," said McCambridge. "There's been an excitement with this group all year and we've been able to build that team chemistry.

"Every player in the American league wants to play in the best league in the world and that's the NHL. That's where they want to be. But what it speaks volumes about is the type of players Winnipeg wants under contract in the umbrella here. They're character guys, they're hard-working. We have that here."

Here's a handy-dandy guide to Round 1 of the IceCaps' playoff run:

STRANGE, BUT TRUE

Although they are in the same conference, the IceCaps and Devils did not face each other in a single game this past season. Albany is one of three squads -- Adirondack and Norfolk are the others -- that St. John's did not play this year as part of a schedule quirk that has been in place in their three years in the AHL.

Meanwhile, St. John's closed out its regular-season schedule last Saturday with a 5-4 road win over the Portland Pirates. That game was played at the Pirates' practice facility in Saco, Maine in front of an announced crowd of 550 because a circus was booked for the Colisee in Lewiston, where Portland played its home games this season.

Rather than return to Newfoundland and then head out again for Game 1 of the playoffs, the IceCaps have stayed in the American northeast and have practised in both Providence and Albany all week.

NOTABLE

-- It is a franchise still only three years old, but the IceCaps did post some record-breaking numbers this past season, including team records for wins (46), points (99), goals scored (258) and fewest goals against (207).

-- Veteran Jason Jaffray established IceCaps records for points (59) and assists (41), while Jerome Samson's 11 power-play goals and John Albert's six short-handed markers also set new team bests. Brenden Kichton also raised the bar in rookie and defenceman categories for points (48) and assists (38) en route to being named the IceCaps top freshman and playing in the AHL All-Star Game.

-- Josh Morrissey, the Jets' first-round pick last summer, suited up for eight games near the end of the regular season after joining the club from the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders. He's been averaging around 17 minutes a game and is quarterbacking one of the power-play units.

"Josh Morrissey has come in and, in the last couple of games in particular, had really played some excellent hockey for us," said McCambridge. "He's still a very young defenceman, but he's making some really top-end plays here at the pro level."

THE OFFENCE COMES FROM...

-- This is a four-lines-deep squad as five IceCaps had 20 or more goals this season: John Albert (28), Jerome Samson (27), team MVP Andrew Gordon (23), Klingberg (22) and Kael Mouillierat (20). Only the Texas Stars, with six, had more.

-- Nine St. John's players had 40 points or more, tying them with Abbotsford and Binghamton for the most in the AHL: Jaffray, Samson, Gordon, Kichton, Mouillierat, Albert, Klingberg, O'Dell -- who played 30 games for the Jets and had 42 points in 42 games with the IceCaps -- and J.C. Lipon. Lipon and Adam Lowry (17 goals in 64 games) are part of a crew of Jets draft picks that have made a big-time impact in St. John's, augmenting the vets already in place on the roster.

THE DEFENSIVE CORPS

-- The IceCaps are anchored by Ben Chiarot, voted the team's top defenceman, along with Julian Melchiori, Zach Redmond, Brenden Kichton, Will O'Neill and Kris Fredheim while Morrissey has already made a smooth transition from junior to the pros.

 

THE PUCKSTOPPERS

The year began with Eddie Pasquale and Jusi Olkinuora listed as 1-2 on the IceCaps' depth chart, but ended with Michael Hutchinson -- who was 2-1 in a late-season call-up to the Jets -- along with Tyler Beskorowany and 2013 draft pick Eric Comrie sharing the net.

Pasquale's season ended in the winter with a hip injury and, with Olkinuora getting more work with the ECHL's Ontario Reign, Hutchinson stepped in to provide outstanding netminding. He went 17-5-1 with a 2.30 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. Hutchinson appeared in 24 games for the IceCaps -- splitting his season between the ECHL, AHL and NHL -- and had he appeared in one more game his numbers would have been franchise records.

FIVE CALDER CUP FAST FACTS

1. Defending champion: Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings affiliate).

2. The architects behind three of the last five organizations to win the Calder Cup are now GMs in the NHL -- Jim Nill, Dallas (Grand Rapids last year); Tim Murray, Buffalo (Binghamton Senators in 2010-11) and Kevin Cheveldayoff, Winnipeg (Chicago Wolves in 2007-08). The other two champions were the Norfolk Admirals in 2011-12 (Julien BriseBois was the GM and is now an assistant GM with Tampa, and the GM of the Syracuse Crunch and Hershey Bears in 2008-09 and 2009-10 (Doug Yingst, still the president and GM).

3. Hershey has won the Calder 11 times, more than any other team. They were also the last of eight teams to win back-to-back championships. The Springfield Indians of 1960-62 were the only team to have won three straight Calder Cup championships.

4. An AHL team has won the Calder Cup in the same spring its NHL parent club has captured the Stanley Cup on three occasions: in 1976 and 1977 (Montreal Canadiens/Nova Scotia Voyaguers) and in 1995 (New Jersey Devils/Albany River Rats).

5. The Calder Cup is named after Frank Calder, the first president of the NHL and a former sports editor at the Montreal Witness, Montreal Herald and Daily Telegraph. The Calder Trophy, awarded to the top rookie in the NHL, is also named in his honour.

 

THE ICECAPS' FIRST-ROUND SKED

Eastern Conference quarter-finals -- Series D (best-of-5)

St. John's IceCaps (4) vs. Albany Devils (5)

Game 1 - Friday, April 25 -- St. John's at Albany

Game 2 - Saturday, April 26 -- St. John's at Albany

Game 3 - Wednesday, April 30 -- Albany at St. John's

*Game 4 - Friday, May 2 -- Albany at St. John's

*Game 5 - Saturday, May 3 -- Albany at St. John's

(*If necessary)

 

THE OTHER MATCHUPS

Eastern Conference

Manchester Monarchs (1) vs Norfolk Admirals (8)

Springfield Falcons (2) vs Providence Bruins (7)

Binghamton Senators (3) vs Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (6)

Western Conference

Texas Stars (1) vs. Oklahoma City Barons (8)

Chicago Wolves (2) vs. Rochester Americans (7)

Toronto Marlies (3) vs. Milwaukee Admirals (6)

Grand Rapids Griffins (4) vs. Abbostford Heat (5)

 

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 24, 2014 D3

History

Updated on Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 10:58 AM CDT: Corrects typos

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