ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland and Labrador – The St. John’s IceCaps looked like a confident team during Wednesday’s practice at Mile One Centre. Just two days away from their 2012-13 AHL home opener versus the Adirondack Phantoms, the IceCaps had a little strut in their step as they worked out for an hour and a half before taking questions from a number of reporters waiting outside the team’s locker room.
The IceCaps have every reason to feel good about their game, given that the core of the team has returned following a season in which they went all the way to the Eastern Conference final. The club also added some quality AHL veterans and a couple of youngsters who are expected to help lead the offensive attack.
After playing two road games last weekend, the IceCaps are now more than ready for their home opener on Friday night. A capacity crowd will be on hand to greet returnees and newcomers alike.
“I hear this place gets packed and really rocking so I’m excited to be a part of that,” said IceCaps goaltender Mark Dekanich.
Dekanich is one of the newcomers to the IceCaps lineup and is coming off a frustrating 2011-12 season in which he missed all but five games due to a devastating ankle injury. So far he has looked solid in goal for the IceCaps, backstopping the team to a 3-2 victory over the Connecticut Whale during the season’s opening weekend.
“I thought he looked really strong in the win over Connecticut,” said IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge. “In practice his reflexes are outstanding and he doesn’t give up on rebounds. He’s looked really strong. I’ve seen him play in the past and he was an outstanding goaltender. He was off for a long time but he’s making some big strides in getting his game back where it was.”
McCambridge is a coach who keeps his cards close to this chest, so it was no surprise he would not reveal if Dekanich or Eddie Pasquale would start in net for the IceCaps on Friday night. He did say each goaltender would be given a chance to play this season since he doesn’t want either goalie to get rusty watching from the bench.
“It’s based on performance. It’s based on shot quality – were they grade A chances or were they not – and also making sure one guy doesn’t sit for too long. It’s a good tandem to have,” McCambridge said.
The kids are alright
Two newcomers IceCaps fans are eager to see play on Friday are Alexander Burmistrov and Ivan Telegin, a pair of 20-year-old forwards from Russia. Both players are tremendously skilled and could provide the IceCaps with the offensive jump they missed for long stretches of the 11-12 campaign.
Burmistrov spent the past two seasons playing in the NHL and is only suiting up in the AHL because of the big league’s labor woes. Telegin is fresh from junior hockey, where he was one of the top snipers in the Ontario Hockey League for three years.
“From Ivan I’ve seen a player with a lot of raw talent. He has tons of speed and a good skill set. He’s raw in the aspect of structured systems, but he’s really receptive to learning. His strongest game was the one in Connecticut on Sunday. He played the way he’s going to need to play when he gets that opportunity up in Winnipeg when the NHL is out of the lockout. He was using his speed, driving to the net and playing with an edge to his game. I like where his game is headed right now,” McCambridge said. “Alex Burmistrov obviously has a great skill set. But what jumps out about him is that his attitude has been outstanding. His work ethic in practice and in games has been excellent. He does a great job of finding seams when he’s looking to make a pass. You can see the NHL speed in the way he moves the puck.”
The captain remains sidelined
Unfortunately for the IceCaps they will be without team captain Jason Jaffray for Friday’s home opener. The 31-year-old forward had offseason neck surgery and has been cleared by doctors to play, but the team feels it is best if he take another week to further his rehab before returning to game action.
“He’s close but he won’t play this weekend. Everything is good with Jaff, but we want to make sure we’re making the right decision when to put him into the lineup,” said McCambridge. “He’ll be in the lineup soon; probably before the first of November. We want to make sure that when he comes back, there will be step backward, it will be full speed ahead.”
Jaffray practiced with his teammates on Wednesday and took part in all contact drills. Although he won’t play on Friday, he continues to help the club’s younger players prepare for what will be an exciting home opener in St. John’s.
“The young guys coming in, they know this is a hockey town,” said Jaffray. “I don’t know if a lot of them have played in front of a sold out barn every night of the week, no matter if it’s a Saturday or a Tuesday. It really gets you amped up and I think a lot of the young guys are excited to see what it’s going to be like this weekend and throughout the season. It’s something they’re all looking forward to.”
Notes: The Adirondack Phantoms are the AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers and arrive in St. John’s with a pair of players who figured prominently in the Flyers 2011-12 season in Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier. Schenn appeared in 54 regular season games with the Flyers last year but saved his best hockey for the playoffs when he registered nine points in 11 postseason games. Couturier played the entire 11-12 season with the Flyers as an 18-year-old, picking up 27 points in 77 games … St. John’s goes into Friday’s game with one win and one loss, while Adirondack also has a 1-1 record.
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