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IceCaps coach turning heads

McCambridge almost certainly NHL-bound

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St. John's IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge uses a white board to map out plays for his players in St. John's in 2011 on the first day of training camp for the AHL team.

GARY HEBBARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS / ST. JOHN'S TELEGRAM- Enlarge Image

St. John's IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge uses a white board to map out plays for his players in St. John's in 2011 on the first day of training camp for the AHL team.

With a five-day break underway between Games 3 and 4 of the AHL's Calder Cup final, it's only logical series tangents will be in play.

For instance, already there's been much speculation that Texas Stars head coach Willie Desjardins will be a good candidate for NHL openings.

On that road, what about his championship series counterpart, Keith McCambridge?

They are men of different experience. Desjardins was a WHL head coach for eight seasons, then moved to the NHL as an associate and is in his second year as an AHL head coach. He is 57.

McCambridge? You may not realize it but he is just 40. His head-coaching experience consists of two years in charge of the ECHL's Alaska Aces before coming to the AHL's Manitoba Moose as an assistant to both Scott Arniel and Claude Noel for two seasons.

His promotion to the top job with the AHL's St. John's IceCaps can easily be judged a success and success in the AHL usually draws attention, especially for a bench boss that played pro hockey and has "youth" on his side.

By youth, we mean that you should keep in mind that other men who have been in charge of True North's AHL franchise behind the bench, then graduated to NHL head coaching jobs, have been Alain Vigneault at 45, Arniel at 47, Randy Carlyle at 49 and Noel at 55.

Yes, it's a streak that's a source of pride for the organization, and in McCambridge's case, whenever the time comes, is more than reasonable to expect it'll be extended.

Suffice it to say that True North is tickled by McCambridge's growth since he first joined the Moose as an assistant in 2009. He has shown an affinity for good relationships with his players and that ability has translated to the ice.

In Year 1 as head coach of the St. John's IceCaps, the Thompson, Man., native successfully blended what was essentially the Moose and the Chicago Wolves and posted a mark of 43-25-8. It was second-best in the AHL's Eastern Conference and the team went to the third round of the playoffs.

In Year 2, the team faltered to 32-36-8 and missed the playoffs, but IceCaps GM Craig Heisinger has said numerous times that was a reflection of personnel mistakes and injuries equivalent to more than 400 man-games.

The mistakes were corrected by reorienting the team towards youth this season and simply being healthier, and under McCambridge's direction, the rebound has been significant. The team had a mark of 46-23-7 for 99 regular-season points and exhibited a consistent, balanced and resilient style that has paved the path to the league final.

In addition, McCambridge comes across as a thoughtful, professional, cool customer. Passion and emotion are certainly requirements for success at the NHL level and screamers certainly draw their share of attention, but the ability to remain calm while all about are losing their minds will never go in the negative column.

Providing this kind of direction for many of the prospects and future skaters for the NHL's Winnipeg Jets certainly goes on the plus side for the organization's future.

Two springs ago, there were some feelers extended on McCambridge's future but nothing materialized.

It's unknown this spring if something is in the works through back channels, but at the moment, things appear quiet on this front. And for 2014-15, the Jets don't envision changing or adding to their coaching staff, so there currently isn't an opening with the NHL team.

McCambridge does have another year remaining but True North would not stand in the way of any offer that's considered a promotion.

The likely scenario in the short-term is that if and when an opportunity does come along, be it internally or externally, a move to an NHL assistant's post would be the right thing for his resumé, just like the True North men that preceded him. All were NHL assistants at one time or another prior to becoming head coaches.

McCambridge's career track suggests this is not a matter of if, only when.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2014 C1

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