Previewing The St. John’s IceCaps

der Eishockeyzuschauer

Allentown, PA

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In all likelihood, it won’t be getting any easier for our Hamilton Street Heroes as the high-flying St. John’s IceCaps, current table-toppers in the North Division of the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference, arrive in downtown Allentown for a two-game set with the understrength Lehigh Valley Phantoms, second from bottom in the Atlantic Division.

Just this past summer, the storied Montreal Canadiens organization moved its AHL farm club to St. John’s in Newfoundland, thus ending a 13-year affiliation with the Hamilton Bulldogs in Ontario. Last season, competing in the AHL’s Western Conference, the Bulldogs ended up in 10th place, six points off the pace to qualify for one of eight Calder Cup playoff spots. All that is in the past now for head coach Sylvain Lefebvre’s club, who have won five and only lost once in regulation time after St. John’s first eight AHL games so far.
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The IceCaps appear to be thoroughly stocked with developing young talent. Of the 24 total players that St. John’s will probably bring on their six-game road trip to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, no less than 18 are NHL Draft choices of the Montreal Canadiens. Furthermore, eleven of those eighteen draft picks were taken in either the first, second or third rounds. The St. John’s IceCaps only have two “Veteran” and two “Veteran-Exempt” skaters so there are no selection headaches for the head coach Lefebvre, who started his very own professional career in the Montreal Canadiens organization (with the AHL’s Sherbrooke Canadiens) and went on to skate in 945 games over the course of a 14-year NHL career as a stay-at-home defenseman.
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The St. John’s IceCaps have two top shelf goaltenders in Don Tokarski, the 26-year-old veteran who spent all of last season with the Montreal Canadiens (17 ga, 2.75 avg, .910 svpct) and still has a one-way contract that pays him $ 575,000 this term, as well as Zach Fucale, the highly touted 20-year-old rookie who backstopped Canada to a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championships last winter.
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Tokarski, who was the 5th round pick (# 122 overall) of the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2008 NHL Draft, is far more experienced having appeared in 242 career AHL games (2.45 avg, .912 svpct) to date. Fucale, who was the 2nd round pick (# 36 overall) of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2013 NHL Draft and the first choice goaltender for Canada at the annual IIHF WJC in both 2014 and 2015, is the proverbial hot prospect said to have the potential to become an NHL starter. Tokarski (5 ga, 3.15 avg, .903 svpct) has gotten the call more often than Fucale (3 ga, 2.63 avg, .926 svpct) so far but the youngster is a perfect 3-0-0-0 and has started two of St. John’s last three contests; Tokarski stopped 35 of 37 shots in the IceCaps’ most recent game, a 3-2 loss to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers after wild shootout that went no fewer than nine rounds (penalty shots were 4-3 in favor of visiting Bridgeport) this past
Sunday.
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It is quite possible that both St. John’s goaltenders will get a game against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
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In part because of injuries to players in training camp, the St. John’s IceCaps have been using virtually the exact same line-up every game so far this season. As a matter of fact, the IceCaps have only used thirteen forwards and six defensemen in their first eight games to begin this new 2015/16 AHL campaign (in other words, St. John’s have made only one substitution). Because the team will be playing six games against Pennsylvania’s three AHL clubs over the course of just 11 calendar days, the IceCaps have recalled two players from the Brampton Beast, their new ECHL affiliate, and can be expected to bring as many as 22 skaters plus two goaltenders on this road trip.
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St. John’s Line Combinations From This Past Saturday
# 27 – Andrighetto … # 10 – Hudson … # 21 – Holloway
# 11 – Carr … # 25 – McCarron … # 19 – Thomas
# 20 – De La Rose … # 40 – Dumont … # 17 – Scherbak
# 23 – Crisp … # 38 – Eisenschmid … # 37 – Gregoire
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Bud Holloway (6’0″ 200 lbs), the 27-year-old veteran right wing who has returned to the AHL after spending the last four years in Europe (three with Swedish club AIK Skelleftea and one with Swiss side SC Bern), is off to a fast start and leads St. John’s in scoring this fall (8 ga, 4 go, 10 pts, 4 pen, + 7 def). Charles Hudson (5’10” 195 lbs), the fifth round choice (# 122 overall) of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2012 NHL Draft, had a strong rookie professional season (75 ga, 19 go, 57 pts, 68 pen, + 5 def) for such a low pick as the IceCaps’ second-leading scorer for the Hamilton Bulldogs last term and continues to produce (8 ga, 2 go, 8 pts, 16 pen, + 8 def) this fall. Swiss import Sven Andrighetto (5’10” 185 lbs), the somewhat undersized third-year pro who was the 3rd round pick of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2013 NHL Draft, has all kinds of skills and upside potential.
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Andrighetto (8 ga, 2 go, 6 pts, 2 pen, + 5 def), who skated for Swiss second division champion EHC Visp as a 17-year-old during the 2010/11 campaign before representing Switzerland at the annual IIHF World Junior Championships in both 2012 and 2013, appeared in a dozen NHL games and scored a pair of goals for the Montreal Canadiens last season; the promising 22-year-old left wing, who had 43 points (19 goals) in 60 AHL games (42 pen, – 6 def) is said to have explosive skating ability, excellent creativity and vision and an accurate wrist shot, as well.
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Second line center Michael McCarron (6’6″ 230 lbs), the massive American from Michigan who played in the Canadian junior system where he was the 1st round pick (# 25 overall) of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2013 NHL Draft, already has four goals in his first eight professional contests. Christian Thomas (5’9″ 180 lbs), the smallish 2nd round pick (# 40 overall) of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2010 NHL Draft, also has four goals and is the second-leading scorer (8 ga, 4 go, 9 pts) for the St. John’s IceCaps this fall after a season which saw the 22-year-old right wing skate club in eighteen NHL contests for the big club. Surprising Daniel Carr (6’0″ 190 lbs), the 23-year-old undrafted free agent out of Union College (where he was an NCAA champion along with Lehigh Valley Phantoms defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere), proved to be a brilliant signing by the Montreal Canadiens organization as the unheralded left wing scored 24 goals in 76 AHL games (21 pen, + 8 def) for the Hamilton Bulldogs as a rookie last season; taking things a step further, Carr has improved his numbers (8 ga, 3 go, 7 pts, 4 pen, + 3 def) in his second season, at least so far.
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Gabriel Dumont (5’10” 185 lbs), 25-year-old feisty center who was the fifth round pick (# 139 overall) of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2009 NHL Draft, was a twenty-goal scorer (66 ga, 20 go, 45 pts, 88 pen, 0 def) for the Hamilton Bulldogs and also appeared in three NHL games for Les Canadiens last season; altogether Dumont has skated for Montreal in a total of 18 career NHL games (1 go, 3 pts, 13 pen, -1 def). Second-year pro Jacob De La Rose (6’3″ 205 lbs), the 2nd round pick (# 34 overall) of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2013 NHL Draft from IF Leksands who earned two silver medals with Lehigh Valley Phantoms defenseman Robert Hagg for Sweden at the annual IIHF World Junior Championships in 2013 and 2014, spent almost half of his rookie season in North America at the NHL level with Montreal (33 ga, 4 go, 6 pts, 12 pen, – 5 def). Teenage right wing Nikita Scherbak (6’2″ 190 lbs), the still 19-year-old winger who was the 1st round pick (# 26 overall) of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2014 NHL Draft, has already notched his first AHL goal for St. John’s.
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One St. John’s IceCaps player of great interest to der Eishockeyzuschauer is Markus Eisenschmid (6’0″ 180 lbs), the undrafted 20-year-old rookie who was the captain of Germany at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championships last winter; a product of the Canadian junior system, Eisenschmid is pointless (6 ga, 0 go, 0 as, 0 pts, – 1 def) in the AHL thus far, though, and could very well lose his place.
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One particular St. John’s IceCaps player to watch for is Mark MacMillan (6’0″ 182 lbs), the 23-year-old rookie left wing from the University of North Dakota who was the 4th round pick (# 113 overall) of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2010 NHL Draft who was just promoted from the Brampton Beast of the ECHL on Tuesday, October 27th.
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St. John’s Defense Pairings From This Past Saturday
# 8 – Barberio … # 4 – Ellis
# 15 – Hanley … # 7 – Dietz
# 9 – Bennett … # 14 – Lernout
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Mark Barberio (6’1″ 200 lbs), the offensive-minded 25-year-old blueliner who spent all of last season skating in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning (52 ga, 1 go, 7 pts, 16 pen, – 4 def), has a contract that pays $ 325,000 for minor league service and is proving to be worth every penny so far with six points (one goal) and a + 5 defensive rating in his first eight AHL games for the St. John’s IceCaps.
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Morgan Ellis (6’1″ 207 lbs), the 23-year-old rearguard who was the 4th round pick (# 117 overall) of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2010 NHL Draft, spent more of his time as a third-year pro in the ECHL with the Wheeling Nailers (39 ga, 13 go, 26 pts, 22 pen, – 13 def) than he did in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs (27 ga, 3 go, 9 pts, 13 pen, + 3 def) but has benefited greatly from being paired with Barberio.
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Joel Hanley (6’0″ 193 lbs), the undrafted 24-year-old defenseman from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, was signed as a free agent by the Montreal Canadiens this summer after patrolling the blue line for the AHL’s Portland Pirates (63 ga, 2 go, 15 pts, 34 pen, + 7 def) last term. Darren Dietz (6’1″ 213 lbs), the 5th round pick (# 138 overall) of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2011 NHL Draft, is a defensive-minded third-year pro who brings a bit of size to the table and has never skated below the AHL level. Max Bennett (6’0″ 190 lbs), the 24-year-old from the University of Michigan who was the 3rd round pick (# 79 overall) of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2009 NHL Draft, had a decent rookie season (59 ga, 4 go, 12 pts, 10 pen -2  def) as a stay-at-home defender for the Hamilton Bulldogs last term.
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Another St. John’s IceCaps player to keep track of is defenseman Josiah Didier (6’0″ 180 lbs), the 23-year-old out of Denver University who was the 4th round pick (# 97 overall) of the Montreal Canadians at the 2011 NHL Draft and is in his first full year as a professional; Didier, who appeared in eight AHL games (0 go, 1 as, 5 pen, 0 def) for the Hamilton Bulldogs after concluding his four-year collegiate career last spring, was also promoted from the Brampton Beast of the ECHL just this Tuesday (Oct 27th).
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Despite their apparent lack of bona fide NHL prospects, the defensive corps of the St. John’s IceCaps has contributed no less than five goals from five different players in the team’s first eight AHL games so far — this is is stark contrast to the zero goals scored this season by all of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ defensemen put together, a group which includes the talented but largely underachieving Ghost (6 ga, 0 go, 2 as, 2 pen, – 4 def).
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Again, the St. John’s IceCaps really do seem to have a strong squad … whatever the results, it should be fun to see the famed Montreal Canadiens’ AHL farm club appear at the PPL Center in downtown Allentown (for the very first time in history) twice in next three days.


Categories: Phantoms Hockey

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