ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland and Labrador – Jason Jaffray served noticed on Saturday night that he is 100 percent recovered from offseason neck surgery and is ready to resume his role as a frontline player for the St. John’s IceCaps.
Jaffray had one goal, one assist and logged several minutes on the penalty kill to lead St. John’s to a 3-2 win over the Norfolk Admirals. The performance meant as much to Jaffray’s teammates as it did to Jaffray, the IceCaps captain.
“That was great. What a comeback story. It’s awesome to see,” said IceCaps goalie Mark Dekanich. “He’s a great player and we’re all happy for him.”
Jaffray suffered a season-ending neck injury last April and went six months before returning to game action on Oct. 24. Saturday’s game against Norfolk was just his second since coming off the injured list, but he looked every bit the same player who was the IceCaps on-and-off-ice leader in 2011-12.
“It was a great feeling tonight. That’s the type of stuff you really miss when you’re away from the game for a long time; hearing the crowd cheering when you score a goal,” said Jaffray.
Jaffray had a big night on the penalty kill, helping the IceCaps kill four short-handed situations by neutralizing the Admirals point men and not allowing them to load and fire on the IceCaps net. He also took the biggest faceoff of the night when he lined up for a draw just to the left of the his team’s goal with two seconds left in the third period.
Both teams had the bulk of their players lined up to the right, in anticipation of a final push toward the IceCaps net. Jaffray muscled his way to a faceoff win, then gingerly placed the puck along the boards in the left-hand corner, far out of reach of any Admirals looking for one final shot on net.
“In that situation it’s pretty much just get the guy’s stick. I tried to get the jump off the draw and put my stick through his legs and push him out of the draw. It worked out well. In that situation he’s just trying to slap it on net and cause a scrum. I tried to cheat as much as possible. It’s late in the game, so if I got tossed out (of the faceoff) we had two or three centers on the ice who could take the draw. It was a matter of overpowering him,” said Jaffray. “That’s the type of thing that gets me excited. I get shivers thinking about it. When you get to go out there in the final 20 or 30 seconds of a hockey game, that’s what you play for. You want the coach to rely on you in those situations and it’s great to be thrown back into that situation this early in the season.”
The IceCaps were the first team on the scoreboard Saturday, with Zach Redmond scoring on a setup from Jaffray at 11:33 of the second period. Jaffray’s power play goal at 13:14 of the second put the IceCaps up 2-0, a lead they held until Devante Smith-Pelly put Norfolk on the score sheet with just six seconds remaining in the middle frame.
St. John’s restored its two-goal lead at 8:27 of the third period when Eric O’Dell found the back of the Admirals net. Sami Vatanen picked up Norfolk’s second goal of the night at 15:10 of the third when his point shot beat a screened Dekanich.
Dekanich was solid throughout game, stopping 28 shots to earn the win in net. Frederik Andersen was spectacular at times for the Admirals, making 40 saves in a losing effort.
The win on Saturday provided Dekanich with a sense of redemption since he was yanked in his last start after giving up six goals in a game the IceCaps would eventually win 8-7 in overtime.
“I’ve watched the tape of that game (Oct. 23 versus Portland) and it was a pretty crazy game, a lot of bounces. I’ve talked with Wade Flaherty, our goalie coach, and honestly if I have the game of my life that night I probably still give up four or five. It was just one of those nights and I knew I had to bounce back tonight and give these guys a chance to win against a good team,” said Dekanich.
The IceCaps and Admirals tangle again today at 4 p.m. local time at Mile One Centre.
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