ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland and Labrador – The St. John’s IceCaps will take their training camp on the road this fall, marking the second consecutive season the team holds camp away from its home rink.
This year the IceCaps will host training camp in Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador. Corner Brook is the second largest city in the province and is situated on the opposite side of the island of Newfoundland, an eight-hour drive from the IceCaps home in St. John’s.
Traditionally, hockey teams from Corner Brook and St. John’s have been fierce on-ice rivals. However, there is little doubt fans in Corner Brook will rally around the IceCaps when the team breaks camp on Oct. 1.
“The City of Corner Brook is a great hockey town with devoted and knowledgeable fans, so it is a natural choice for training camp this year,” said IceCaps chief executive officer Danny Williams in a release issued by the team.
As part of training camp, the IceCaps will engage in a three-game preseason schedule against the Syracuse Crunch. These games will also be spread across the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, with the first contest going Oct. 4 in Corner Brook. The second game takes place one night later in Stephenville and the final contest is on Oct. 7 in Clarenville.
This marks the second straight fall the IceCaps have held camp and played preseason games in small community rinks that are normally used for amateur and youth sports. By hosting these events in smaller communities the team is building province-wide support and giving its players a closer look at the region that has so eagerly embraced the club.
“With games being held in three communities, we give our players an opportunity to experience more of our great province, and we also expose the team to a broader fan base,” said Williams.
Sawada returning to IceCaps
Ray Sawada joined the IceCaps late in the 2011-12 AHL season and quickly endeared himself to the team’s followers with his gritty style of play. He provided a physical dimension the team had been missing from its wingers and created space for his linemates by doing the dirty work in the corners and in front of the net.
His efforts in 17 regular season games (two goals, one assist, 14 penalty minutes) and 15 playoff games (three goals, three assists, 17 penalty minutes) have earned him a contract with the team for the 2012-13 AHL campaign, as announced by the IceCaps last week.
“He’s at his best when he’s physical and using that size, just like he did in the playoffs,” IceCaps’ head coach Keith McCambridge told The St. John’s Telegram about Sawada.
New man on defence
The IceCaps added some experience to their blue line this week when they signed Dean Arsene to a contract. Arsene is a 32-year-old professional hockey veteran, having played 513 career AHL games, as well as 13 games in the NHL during a brief stint with the Edmonton Oilers in 2010.
Arsene has a well-earned reputation as a hard-nosed, stay-at-home defenceman. While not considered an enforcer, Arsene is known as a willing pugilist who will defend his teammates. He finished third on the Portland Pirates in fighting majors last season with six and his dance card included bouts with AHL heavyweights Jordan Nolan and Richard Clune.
“Even though he might not be the flashy type of player who jumps out at you right away if you are a fan watching from the stands, he is the type that when you are on the ice playing against him, you know that he’s there,” McCambridge told the St. John’s Telegram regarding Arsene.
Arsene was the captain of the Portland Pirates last season, during which he picked up two goals, eight assists, 10 points and 117 penalty minutes.
IceCaps continue to add toughness
Based on player signings so far this summer, it appears the IceCaps are making an effort to ice a tougher lineup than they did last season.
Early in the offseason the IceCaps signed enforcer Ryan Schnell, who registered 46 penalty minutes in 12 AHL games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season. Next came the addition of Arsene, a willing combatant who is no stranger to dropping his gloves. The third such player to sign with the team this summer is Norm Ezekiel, a 21-year-old who spent the last two seasons playing for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League.
Ezekiel is listed at just five-foot-eight and 180 pounds, but he registered 27 fighting majors over the past two seasons. He routinely battled opponents who had substantial height and weight advantages, yet somehow managed to win many more fights than he lost.
Ezekiel scored five goals and added four assists in 66 games with Barrie last season, while playing both right wing and defence. While he is not guaranteed a spot on the IceCaps roster, his versatility and toughness have him in the running for a position on the team.
Rookie focused heading into camp
Julian Melchiori is expected to earn a spot on the IceCaps defence by the time the AHL season begins in October, but the 20-year-old insists he won’t be happy just making the team.
The 6-foot-four, 215-pound rearguard is one of the Winnipeg Jets top prospects on defence and he plans on using the 2012-13 AHL season as a springboard to a job with the NHL club. He played one game with the IceCaps last season after his junior team in Oshawa, Ontario was eliminated from the playoffs and then stayed in St. John’s for the duration of their Calder Cup playoff run.
Melchiori did not suit up for any playoff action, but he did practice daily with the IceCaps coaching staff and players. The experience gave the young defender a good idea of what is expected of him this season.
“It was really good. I was there for two months and it was a great experience for me. It’s going to help me a lot going into next year, having a leg up on some that haven’t been there before,” Melchiori told WinnipegJets.com. “I’m going to use that experience the best I can and go in there next year and really fight for a spot.”
Sides gets another shot
Joey Sides is hoping his second stint with the St. John’s IceCaps lasts longer than his first.
The IceCaps recalled Sides from the Colorado Eagles of the ECHL late last season, but he did not see any game action before being returned to the Eagles. Sides will get another shot at cracking the IceCaps lineup at training camp when he auditions for a spot at center or on the wing.
If Sides fails to make the IceCaps during training camp, he will likely be assigned to the Eagles, the team’s ECHL affiliate. In 29 games with Colorado last year, Sides had 29 points.
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