2013-14 Season Preview Posted by IceCaps on
IceCaps add veterans to bolster lineup
By Ed Veilleux
Experience helps win hockey games: A saying that could be the mantra for this season’s St. John’s IceCaps.
In terms of off-season additions, the IceCaps grabbed experienced-fighter Blair Riley, former AHL All-Star Andrew Gordon and former 78-point scorer Jerome Samson.
“We’ve added good character veterans,” IceCaps Head Coach Keith McCambridge said. “We’ve added veterans with some speed and some skill and obviously leadership.”
For the youngsters returning for another season, the coaching staff hopes being another year older transitions to results on the ice.
“We’re now having some guys coming into their second year, like Ben Chiarot and Julian Melchiori, where you really get to see what you have in a player,” McCambridge said. “The youth movement is pushing from the bottom end, and you need that as a team. You need your good veteran players to be balanced out by young guys who will push every day.”
After suffering through a 32-36-3-5 record, the IceCaps are hoping to make the playoffs this season and potentially mimic or surpass their first season, which saw the team reach the Eastern Conference finals.
“We want to be a competitive team that competes hard every night,” McCambridge added. “We want to be a team that can allow those young guys to grow and blossom and develop into good AHL players, which obviously can roll into them being good NHL players.”
The IceCaps will look for Eric O’Dell, captain Jason Jaffray and Kael Mouillierat to again help carry the offensive load for the team, though this year they will be far from alone, as Samson and Gordon were added to address the scoring need.
Jaffray expects great things from both off-season pick-ups, who combined to play in more than 100 NHL games.
“Jerome Samson has put up 78 points in this league before and Andrew Gordon has been a two or three-time all-star, so those guys are going to be relied upon to provide a lot of offense for our team. Gordon is not only a guy who puts up a lot of points in this league but he’s a very hard-working centreman and a guy that can play shorthanded, powerplay and five-on-five.”
For Gordon, who was born in Nova Scotia, the East Coast feels like home for him, making St. John’s a perfect fit for the 27-year-old forward.
“This is a city where the building is full every night and the people are excited about hockey,” he said. “Any time you get to play in Canada it always feels special, so I’m excited to be here. Just looking up and down our roster, the guys that we have coming in with experience and the guys who are returning, we have a good chance to have a really good group.”
If O’Dell can build on his 29-goal, 55-point season, the IceCaps can be sure his linemate Mouillierat could be in store for even better things than his 42 points in just 50 games last season.
Another player to watch is defenceman Zach Redmond, who thrilled fans with flashes of brilliance from the point and led his team’s blueliners for much of the year with 19 points in 38 games, before the Winnipeg Jets called him up. Due to a glut of rearguards with the big club, the Jets have returned him to St. John’s to start of the season.
For captain Jaffray, the playoffs are the main goal but he would be happy to reach a certain personal milestone.
“I always aim for 50 points,” Jaffray said. “If you can have 50 points in this league, that means you’ve stayed healthy through most of the season and you’ve been productive. When you look around the league, that would put you up in the top-20 or top-30 in the league for scoring. I come into every season looking for that.”
Aside from scoring, the IceCaps addressed other areas, bringing in some extra toughness by picking up Riley. He racked up 165 penalty minutes last season for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL.
Goaltending appears to be in the capable hands of Eddie Pasquale, now entering his fourth pro season. He will also provide guidance to rookie backup Jussi Olkinuora.
The IceCaps have three goalies on their roster: Eddie Pasquale, Michael Hutchinson and Jussi Olkinuora, and the coaching staff is looking to give all three some time in the net to see how the goalie battle plays out.
“We know what Eddie Pasquale can do and we know this is a big year for him. And we have Olkinuora, who was highly regarded coming out of college.”
With the new additions and the promising youth, the third-year captain expects a good season ahead for the team.
“If you look at the guys we brought in, I think the fans are going to be excited,” Jaffray said. “The organization up in Winnipeg, and here in St. John’s, has done a great job building a young team that is going to be competitive.”