Back in first!
Weller returns with two goals, IceCaps down Monarchs 4-2
By Chris Doyle
St. John’s, NL – A return home was just what the doctor ordered.
Shawn Weller made a triumphant return from the infirmary, scoring two goals including the game-winner, to lift the St. John’s IceCaps to a 4-2 victory over the Manchester Monarchs Friday night at Mile One Centre. The win allows St. John’s to reclaim first place in the Atlantic Division.
Weller netted the tying goal in the second and found the twine again in the third, in his first game back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the past month. David Aebischer continued his strong play of late, stopping 23 shots for his ninth win of the season and seventh in the past eight starts.
Jason Jaffray extended his point streak to four games with a goal and an assist, while defenceman Travis Ramsey chipped in with a pair of assists for the home side. Spencer Machacek, despite being held without a point, was all over the ice, firing eight shots on goal and earning the game’s third star for his efforts. Weller was named the game’s first star in his comeback from the injury, which cost him 10 games.
“We’ve missed Shawn when he’s out of the lineup,” IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge said. “He’s a real tough guy to replace because he’s a big body that has speed, so it’s good to see him get rewarded.”
For his part, Weller said it was great to be back in the lineup, and scoring twice was just icing on the cake.
“It’s tough when you can’t get out there for practice, and I was looking forward to getting back, especially on home ice,” Weller said following the contest. “I felt pretty good out there. It was a huge win. We’ve beaten them three times now and when it’s so tight in the standings, these are big games, and you’ve got to win them. They’re not going to be happy about tonight and they’ll come back with a push tomorrow.”
The game was highly contested right from the start, with both teams relying on big saves from their goaltenders.
Manchester struck first at 11:51 of the opening frame at the tail end of a Monarchs power play. After a failed IceCaps attempt to clear the zone, Robert Czarnik was left alone in front of the net and pounced on a rebound, sliding the puck into a yawning cage to put his team up 1-0.
The IceCaps had several chances to even the score on a power play of their own but reigning Reebok/AHL Goalie of the Month Jeff Zatkoff made some key saves to keep the Monarchs on top. Aebischer answered with a few huge saves on his own late in the period, and the IceCaps skated off the ice down 1-0 after 20 minutes of play.
“Any time your goaltender makes big saves like that, it puts an extra jump in your step,” McCambridge stated. “You know he’s back there and he’s into the game. He made some key saves when we needed him to. Both goaltenders were really sharp.
“I thought it was a good game by both teams. It was a close-checking game, but it had a lot of pace to it. It’s a fight for the top of the division, so it was exactly what we thought it would be.”
Manchester jumped ahead 2-0 on Linden Vey’s 10th goal of the season at the 6:02 mark of the second period. Stefan Legein took a shot that caromed off a leg and found the stick of Vey, who was streaking in off the left wing and buried a wrist shot past Aebischer.
The IceCaps cut the lead in half on a power play midway through the period on a bullet from Jason DeSantis at the point, making it 2-1. Just 1:25 later, Brett Festerling snapped a shot from the point that hit a falling Weller and redirected into the back of the net for his fourth goal of the season to tie the game at two. St. John’s pressed hard in the middle frame, outshooting the Monarchs 20-6, and if not for the stellar goaltending of Zatkoff the score would have been much different heading into the third period.
In the final stanza, the IceCaps completed the comeback when Weller notched his second goal of the night, and fifth of the season, when he wristed a shot from the left side that eluded Zatkoff, sending the 17th consecutive capacity crowd of 6,287 into a frenzy. Jaffray added his ninth of the season in the final minute, when an Aaron Gagnon pass caromed off his skate and into the back of the net past a clearly frustrated Zatkoff. In all, the IceCaps fired 47 shots at the Monarchs net, compared to just 25 for the visitors.
The win was the IceCaps 20th of the season, and they improved their record to 3-0-0-0 versus division rival Manchester. The IceCaps now have 45 points to Manchester’s 44, but St. John’s has only played 33 games, compared to the Monarchs’ 37. In addition to reclaiming first place, the IceCaps temporarily leapfrogged the Hershey Bears – who were in action Friday versus the Adirondack Phantoms in an outdoor game at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia – for top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The two teams square off again Saturday night, where the IceCaps will look to increase their lead atop the Atlantic Division. Catch all the action with Brian Rogers at www.stjohnsicecaps.com and on 930 AM This Is Newfoundland Labrador. Pregame show begins at 7:00, with the drop of the puck scheduled for 7:30 p.m. (all times Newfoundland).
Game Photos (Jeff Parsons)