By Chris Doyle
St. John’s, NL – Despite a near-perfect record away from home this season, the St. John’s IceCaps are staring at a tough road to redemption this weekend.
Coming off three straight home losses last week, the IceCaps look to right the ship Friday night in Manchester and Saturday and Sunday in Portland.
After a brilliant month of November during which the IceCaps went 7-2-1-0, the team has sputtered to a 3-3-0-0 start in December. St. John’s has been affected by a roster that has been in flux in recent weeks, with a number of players succumbing to injury or being recalled to the parent club in Winnipeg. Riley Holzapfel, Shawn Weller, John Albert, Jason Gregoire, and Jason King have all missed time with various ailments. As well, Carl Klingberg was recalled by Winnipeg in late November, creating a number of holes up front.
Things may be looking up for St. John’s heading into Friday’s matchup with the Manchester Monarchs, though. Albert, Gregoire, and King all appear to be ready for game action once again, providing a boost to the forward unit. And the blueline also got stronger this week with the addition of Arturs Kulda, who was reassigned to the IceCaps after clearing waivers Wednesday. It is the most complete roster coach Keith McCambridge has had to work with in quite some time.
The Monarchs have won three straight and five-of-six overall, and are coming off a 2-1 victory over the Portland Pirates Wednesday night. The win put them two points up on the IceCaps for first place in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference (St. John’s has three games in hand). The teams have met just once this season, with the IceCaps coming out on top 1-0 back on October 8 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. Peter Mannino recorded the shutout stopping 23 shots while Riley Holzapfel had the game’s only goal.
Like their parent club the Los Angeles Kings, the Monarchs have had trouble finding the back of the net with consistency. Marc-Andre Cliché and Dwight King lead the team with just 15 points in 29 games, and the club’s 2.69 goals per game rank 22nd in the league. However, Manchester has been buoyed by solid defensive play and sound goaltending from the duo of Martin Jones and Jeff Zatkoff. The tandem has guided the Monarchs to the fifth-best goals against average in the AHL (2.55) and a combined 0.925 save percentage.
After the IceCaps leave Manchester, the team will play a two-game series against the Pirates at The Civic Center in Portland. The Pirates sit fourth in the five-team Atlantic Division but are one of four teams in the division with a winning percentage above 0.500. The IceCaps and Pirates met for a two-game series at Mile One Centre back in late October, with the clubs splitting the pair of games. St. John’s won 5-1 on October 25 on a 28-save performance from Eddie Pasquale, while the Pirates exacted their revenge the following night with a 5-2 triumph.
Leading scorer Andy Miele has 22 points in 21 games but has managed just two assists in seven December contests. Centre Brock Trotter has provided a spark offensively since coming over from the Hamilton Bulldogs in an early season trade. Trotter has nine points in 11 games with the Pirates and is riding a four-game point streak (3g, 2a).
The games Friday and Saturday are scheduled for 8:30 p.m. while Sunday’s tilt is set for 5:30 p.m. (all times Newfoundland). Catch all the action with Brian Rogers on www.stjohnsicecaps.com and on 930 AM This Is Newfoundland Labrador. Pregame show begins a half hour before puck drop.