IceCaps continue hot streak with wins over Pirates

ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland and Labrador – The St. John’s IceCaps have had a disappointing season, but no one can accuse the team of throwing in the towel as the 2012-13 AHL campaign winds down.

Portland goalie Chad Johnson watches the puck cross the goal line during his team’s game in St. John’s on April 10. The IceCaps won the game 4-3. Photo courtesy St. John’s IceCaps

Portland goalie Chad Johnson watches the puck cross the goal line during his team’s game in St. John’s on April 10. The IceCaps won the game 4-3. Photo courtesy St. John’s IceCaps

The IceCaps have won eight of their last 11 games, collecting 17 out of a possible 22 points during this stretch. The hot streak comes at a time when the team is all but assured of missing the playoffs, a clear demonstration the IceCaps are playing for pride and in some cases, contracts for next season.

The latest team to feel the IceCaps wrath was the Portland Pirates, who visited St. John’s on April 9 and 10. The IceCaps won both games, by scores of 3-2 and 4-3 respectively, prompting head coach Keith McCambridge to spread credit around for the team’s improved play in the past few weeks.

“Number one, our goaltending has been really strong for us. We’ve also got some chemistry now, where before there were a lot of injured players, players coming in and out of the lineup,” said McCambridge. “And this youth has injected some energy into the group, things haven’t gotten stale. We had the (Spencer) Machacek trade as well, and since that the team has jump started and really come to life. I see that as a key turning point to the season.”

The youth McCambridge referenced was prevalent in the wins over Portland. Rookie forwards Kyle Lowry, Vinny Saponari and Matthew Kirzinger, all recently signed to amateur tryout offers (ATO), each played a regular shift in the two-game set with the Pirates. Lowry was used in a number of different roles, seeing time on the power play and penalty kill, while Saponari and Kirzinger gave fans flashes of the offensive skills that earned them late-season looks from the IceCaps.

“Every day at practice I’m staring to feel more and more comfortable and I think it’s starting to show in games,” said Saponari. “I came here for the experience, to get my feet wet, get a taste of pro hockey. I’m definitely getting that.”

The IceCaps have also gone 4-1-1 in their last six home games, a welcome improvement for St. John’s fans who watched the club struggle to win at home for much of this season.

“We’re disappointed that we weren’t able to win more games in front of our home crowd. They always support us well and the guys enjoy this city and this province. We want to make sure our last regular season home stand is a good one,” McCambridge said.

The two wins over Portland are especially satisfying for the IceCaps since the Pirates are a legitimate Eastern Conference payoff team that came to St. John’s with plenty for which to play. These were not wins over a fellow also-ran, but instead were victories over a team hoping to make a run in the Calder Cup playoffs.

“It feels really good. I thought we played a really smart game … we had a very good effort from everybody,” McCambridge of the two-game sweep over Portland. “We had everybody on board. We didn’t have one guy who didn’t bring his ‘A’ game.”

Cody Sol, Josh Lunden and Ray Sawada scored for St. John’s in the 3-2 win over Portland on April 9. Saponari, Kirzinger, Eric O’Dell, Kael Mouillierat, Travis Ramsay and Jason Jaffray picked up assists in the win. Replying for Portland were Phil Lane and Brendan Shinnimin. Mark Dekanich was the winning goalie for St. John’s, while Mark Visentin took the loss for the Pirates.

Mouillierat, Saponari, Jaffray and Carl Klingberg were the goal scores for the IceCaps in their 4-3 win on April 10. O’Dell, Lunden, Lowry, Ramsay and Mouillerat each added a helper, while Will O’Neill Ben Maxwell had two assists each in the victory. Scoring for Portland were Darian Dziurzynski, Jordan Martinook and David Rundblad. Dekanich was again the winning goalie in the IceCaps crease, with Chad Johnson suffered the loss for Portland.

The IceCaps play their final two home games of the 2012-13 regular season this weekend when they host the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

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