In a game that featured a deluge of penalties, the St. John's IceCaps saw their power-play drought end Tuesday as they downed the Portland Pirates 5-1 before another packed house at Mile One Centre.
The IceCaps (5-1-1) got second-period man-advantage goals from Riley Holzapfel and Jason King in claiming victory in the opener of a two-game series that continues tonight at Mile One (7:30 p.m.). Holzapfel's tally, which would stand as the game-winner, came as St. John's enjoyed one of three two-man advantages it had on the night. It also ended a zero-for-29 power-play streak for his team.
In all, the IceCaps had 11 power-plays in the game, including nine straight in a stretch extending from 13:22 of the first period to 19:04 of the second.
"I don't think I have," answered Holzapfel, when asked if he had ever witnessed such a steady opposition parade to the penalty box in a game.
"I was telling some of the guys in the dressing room that most of my shifts were special teams. Same with rest of the guys. Some were killing (penalties) all night. Some were on the power play all night."
The Pirates (2-4-1) had eight power-plays, but a couple only lasted mere seconds.
Tuesday's was the fifth IceCaps home game of the season, but the first that featured two referees, a point the St. John's coaching staff stressed in their game preparation.
"(They told) the guys to watch their sticks and play as smart as you can," said Holzapfel. "Especially with two refs, there's going to be lots of calls ... lots of eyes out there."
Both St. John's head coach Keith McCambridge or Dave King, filling in behind the Pirates bench while Portland head coach Ray Edwards attends his grandmother's funeral, agreed the game was an anomaly when it came to the frequency and flow of penalty calls, but neither found fault with the referees, with McCambridge calling them "consistent" and King going as far to say most of the calls were "good ones."
Still, for King, coaching in the AHL for the first time in a career that is approaching the 40-year mark, it wasn't exactly what he envisioned when he was asked to take over for Edwards.
"No, it's certainly not the introduction (to AHL coaching) that I expected," said King, normally the pro development coach for the parent Phoenix Coyotes.
Rookie John Albert, with his first pro goal, and defencemen Brett Festerling and Travis Ramsey, with their first IceCaps markers, also scored for St. John's.
The Pirates actually carried a 1-0 lead into the second period courtesy of a Kyle Chipchura goal that came while the Pirates were enjoying a five-on-three power play midway through the opening frame.
The IceCaps, who had four-first-period power-plays, including a couple that resulted in a five-on-three, finally solved Portland netminder Curtis McElhinney four minutes into the second period when Albert scored. Two-and-1/2 minutes later, they then solved their power-play problems as Holzapfel buried a rebound. Later in the period, and for good measure, the got one of the more orthodox five-on-four variety as a shot bounced off the glass to the edge of the crease, where King tapped a backhander into the Pirates goal.
Festerling and Ramsey both scored on third-period wrist shots from the point, the former through a screen, the latter on a deflection off a Portland defender. McElhinney was visibly upset after the Ramsey goal, but it shouldn't have been himself as he was the best Pirate in the game, facing 41 shots in the process.
"I think it should have been the kind of game where you win a squeaker and the goaltender was the difference," said King. "It should have been, but it wasn't and it's a shame, because we got outstanding goalkeeping."
At the other end of the ice, Eddie Pasquale, making his first start for St. John's, was also having an outstanding night, albeit in a different way. While McElhinney faced a fairly steady barrage of shots, Pasquale had to deal with long periods of inactivity, especially as the Pirates took up semi-permanent residence in the penalty box.
"Those are tough games, especially (since) it was the first one of the season for me," said Pasquale. "I was really nervous.
"And it's not fun sitting there by yourself (with all the play in the other zone). But you just have to find ways to keep your focus."
That he did, making 28 saves in all and earning the praise of his coach, who admitted he was a little worried at the long lull in action for his goalie.
"I looked at the shot clock and saw how long he was sitting there without shots," said McCambridge. "But I though he did a great job of staying in the game mentally and getting the big save when we needed them."
The teams have a rematch tonight at Mile One (7:30 p.m.) before the IceCaps get ready for a six-game, 11 day road trip.
During a first-period timeout, a presentation highlighting the hockey highlights of St. John's native and Pirates assistant coach John Slaney was played on the Mile One video screens. "It makes a great memory. It was a proud moment for me and my family," said Slaney, in his first year of coaching after 20 years playing in the pros. "It was nice how it was done. I really appreciated it." ... Tuesday's three stars were 1. Holzapfel 2. Albert 3. Pasquale ... IceCaps' forward Shawn Weller had two assists Tuesday, his first points of the season ... Kevin Cheveldayoff, the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets, is taking in the IceCaps' series against the Pirates ... Among the Portland scratches was forward Ryan Hollweg, serving one-game, AHL-imposed suspension for a high-stick to the head of a Providence player in a weekend game