IceCaps continue to rise to the challenge

Brendan McCarthy
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St. John's "finding ways to win"; Redmond, Albert the latest heroes as team sweeps weekend three-game set

Red-hot IceCaps may be an oxymoron, but it’s an apt description of the American Hockey League team from St. John’s.

Josh Lunden of the St. John’s IceCaps takes the faceoff against J.T. Miller of the Hartford Wolf Pack during their American Hockey League game Friday night at the XL Centre in Hartford. Lunden scored twice in a 6-1 win, the first of three straight for St. John’s over the weekend. — Photo by Chris Rutsch/Hartford Wolf Pack

Defenceman Zach Redmond snapped a nine-game pointless streak in emphatic fashion Sunday afternoon, scoring the game-winning goal on a power play with 1:19 left — and after picking up two assists earlier in the contest — as the IceCaps downed the Springfield Falcons 5-4 for their fourth straight win and 13th in their last 14 games.

The result makes for a perfect front half of what will be a six-game road trip for St. John’s (41-20-4). The IceCaps defeated the Hartford Wolf Pack 5-1 Friday night and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers 2-1 in a shootout Saturday before finishing up the three-in-three weekend with Sunday’s victory in western Massachusetts.

“This team is showing it doesn’t make excuses. Instead, when we face some adversity, we’ve been finding ways to win,” said IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge after Sunday’s game.

“Today, it was a third game in three days and on an afternoon. We had good energy to start, they (the Falcons) had a good push-back in the second and in the third. I think we may have run out of gas a little bit, but we found a way to win.

“The other night in Bridgeport, I really thought the Sound Tigers were the better team and deserved a better fate, but we got good goaltending from (Tyler) Beskorowany to get it to the shootout, and we found a way to win.”

McCambridge’s team has also been battling the flu bug. Blair Riley missed Friday’s game because of it and defenceman Kris Fredheim, ready for action after being sidelined by injury for two months, is also ailing and had his return delayed. Adam Lowry, who got the shootout winner Saturday, also wasn’t able to go Sunday.

Josh Lunden dressed for all three games, but wasn’t 100 per cent, while Jerome Samson was dealing with a double whammy — the flu and a damaged eardrum — but also played all three games.

The schedule and health issues made the return of John Albert to the lineup on Sunday that much more welcome.

Albert, in his first game after being reassigned from the parent Winnipeg Jets, scored the first two goals for St. John’s.

“John Albert automatically raises the work ethic of an already hard-working team,” said McCambridge, “and he provided a spark that we needed.”

Carl Klingberg and Kyle MacKinnon had the other goals for St. John’s. Klingberg had two assists to join Redmond and rookie J.C. Lipon, who had three helpers, in having a three-point game.

Patrick McNeill scored twice, while Ryan Craig and Michael Chaput also tallied for Springfield, which trailed 3-0 after the first period and 4-2 after 40 minutes, but tied the game with third-period power-play goals by McNeill and Craig, the latter’s coming at 14:21 of the final frame.

It seemed like the Northeast Division-leading Falcons might be poised to take their first lead, but Springfield rearguard Dallas Jackson took a roughing minor at 17:15 and Redmond connected on a one-timer that deflected off a defender and got by goalie Jeremy Smith a minute and a half later.

Goaltender Jussi Olkinuora, in his first action for the IceCaps after coming back from the ECHL’s Ontario Reign, made 33 saves for the win, while Smith made 19 stops for the Falcons, the farm team of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“I think we had two well-structured teams, evenly-matched at this point of the season,” said McCambridge. “They are missing some key players, but so are we with (Patrice) Cormier, (Eric) O’Dell and (Michael) Hutchinson all in Winnipeg.

“So this was a good measuring stick for us. I think it was for Springfield, too.”

St. John’s magic number to clinch a playoff spot in the AHL’s Eastern Conference now sits at nine. That’s based on the points the IceCaps need to earn over their remaining 11 games, in conjunction with points not earned by the ninth-place team in the conference. Right now, that’s the Hershey Bears, who lost 2-1 to the league-leading Manchester Monarchs Sunday.

In that game, St. John’s native Zach O’Brien scored his 10th goal of the season for Manchester, which remains six points ahead of the IceCaps — who have two games in hand — in the Atlantic Division.

St. John’s actually has the second-best record among the 15 teams in the conference, but officially sits in fourth place in the conference standings since the top three seeds go to division leaders.

The IceCaps’ next game is Wednesday night in Syracuse, N.Y., where they’ll face the Crunch.

 Notes

Cormier was assigned to the IceCaps Saturday, but remained in Winnipeg Sunday, perhaps because of injury concerns for the Jets coming off their 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday night … Redmond wasn’t the only IceCap blueliner to snap a pointless streak Sunday. Rookie Brenden Kichton ended his at six games with two assists … St. John’s captain Jason Jaffray was held off the scoresheet for the first time in eight games … Scratches for the IceCaps Sunday were Lowry, Fredheim, defenceman Cody Lampl and ATO forward Colton Beck, who had made his pro debut Friday against Hartford … Both teams were two-for-seven on the power play Sunday … The Molson Canadian three stars: 1. Redmond, SJs; 2. McNeill, Spg; 3. Albert, SJs … The Mary Browns hardest-working IceCap: Lipon … 

bmcc@thetelegram.com

Organizations: IceCaps, American Hockey League, Bridgeport Sound Tigers 2 Sound Tigers Winnipeg Jets Columbus Blue Jackets

Geographic location: St. John's, Springfield, Massachusetts Bridgeport Winnipeg Syracuse, N.Y.

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