Saturday, June 7, 2014

Previewing the IceCaps With St. John's Writer Charles Dart

Travis Morin is the only Texas Stars to have played in St. John's this season. He and Colton Sceviour laced up for the All-Star game in February against Farjestad BK. (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Throughout these playoffs, various Eastern Conference writers have kept the fans in Texas up to date on what is going on in their playoff races. Few have been more dedicated than Charles Dart, who covers the St. John's IceCaps for a variety of outlets, including Winnipeg Whiteout and The Hockey Writers.

I reached out to Charles to answer a few questions about the IceCaps, since there is such a knowledge gap for Stars' fans in general about the team. He kindly obliged. You can follow Charles on Twitter at @CharlesMDart.

HDH: First off, any general thoughts or things we should know about the team and its fans? The arena, the atmosphere, the city, the province?
The culture and commercial activity for the city meet in the middle at Mile One Centre, located right next to Town Hall on New Gower Street in downtown St. John’s. The name “Mile One” is based upon geography, as the Trans Canada Highway begins in St. John’s. It was named by now IceCaps CEO and President Danny Williams in 2001 upon opening and is located two minutes from George Street - the street with the most bars and pubs per square foot of any street in North America - and three minutes from the Atlantic Ocean.
Within weeks of the 2011 formation of the IceCaps organization, 4,700 season tickets were sold, and every game has sold out since then (capacity 6,287). 50/50 jackpots* rank among the highest in the AHL and sometimes into NHL levels, garnering between $11,500 - $24,000 depending on the game. 
St. John's had an AHL franchise from 1991-2005, before they were relocated to Toronto and re-named the Marlies.
HDH: What is the team make up of the IceCaps? What is their signature thing or calling card? (e.g. Stars team speed)
Depth of scoring is the signature of this year's IceCaps game. St. John's is the only team in these Calder Cup playoffs with every player on the score sheet — even G Michael Hutchinson has two assists. Even with games lost to injury (and a suspension) in these playoffs to captain Jason Jaffray, Will O'Neill, Josh Morrissey, and Jerome Samson, the IceCaps still found a way to win games and make it to this year's finals.
HDH: Who has been hot this playoff run? Who are the impact players? Any players who are waiting for a breakout?
The IceCaps are led by AHL veteran Andrew Gordon, who paces all players in the 2014 Calder Cup playoffs with 16 points (8G, 8A) in 16 games thus far. Gordon is in search of his third Calder Cup Trophy - he won in 2009 and 2010 with the Hershey Bears. Forwards Eric O'Dell (9 G, 2A) and captain Jason Jaffray (4G, 6A) are also providing the IceCaps with a scoring punch.

The defensive corps of the IceCaps has largely contributed on the score sheet as well; Will O'Neill (13 points), Zach Redmond (11 points), rookies Josh Morrissey (8 points) and Brenden Kichton (2G, 4A) play heavy minutes 5-on-5, powerplay, and penalty kill. The IceCaps also receive very strong defensive-defence from the likes of Jordan Hill, Ben Chiarot, and Kris Fredheim as well as defensive forwards Adam Lowry, Josh Lunden, and Blair Riley. The IceCaps run a full four-line hockey game and it has benefited them all season long.

Between the pipes is Michael Hutchinson, who has an 11-5 record with a 1.61 GAA and .946 sv% and 3 shutouts - all tops in these AHL playoffs.
On slumps, look for 25 year-old John Albert to continue to try and get out of his scoring slump; he scored a career-high 28 goals and 45 points this season with the IceCaps but has just one goal and six assists in 16 playoff games. JC Lipon will also try and get onto the score sheet more as well - he finished this rookie season with 41 points, but has just one assist in these playoffs.
Tyler Beskorowany in December 11, 2011 game at Milwaukee
(Credit: Christopher Jerina)
HDH: Thoughts on former Texas Stars Tyler Beskorowany and Kael Mouillierat?
Former Texas Stars' players Kael Mouillierat and Tyler Besorowany were a huge part of the IceCaps success this season. Had Mouillierat not been out for 14 games, he would have broken the IceCaps single-season record for both points (55) and assists (33), as he managed 53 points (20G, 33A) in 53 games played. Mouillierat has continued his strong play in these playoffs, posting 3 goals and 5 assists in 16 games.

Beskorowany was even more crucial to the IceCaps success after starting goaltender Eddie Pasquale underwent season-ending hip surgery in February. Signed just after the Pasquale announcement, Beskorowany posted a fantastic 7-2-1-2 record with a 2.20 GAA and .932 sv% to secure the IceCaps a playoff spot. With the return of Michael Hutchinson from his call-up to Winnipeg, Beskorowany has found himself sitting on the bench as the number two goaltender for St. John's.
HDH: How have special teams done so far for the team?
Regular season PK% was 83.5% (9th) and their PP% was 18.1% (13th). 
During the Calder Cup playoffs the IceCaps are an outstanding 71-for-78 (91%) on the PK, with a 94.1 PK% at home and 88.6 PK% on the road. Their power play was much to be desired during the last part of the regular season and heading into the playoffs. However, it picked up during their last series versus the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and now sits at 16.9%, just .2% better than Texas.
HDH: What has the storyline been in the playoffs to this point?
The IceCaps defeated the Albany Devils in four games in round one and moved on to defeat the Norfolk Admirals in six games. The IceCaps prevailed against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in six games, however not without rugged contest; there were several penalties, fights, and even a suspension of Will O'Neill. Scoring first in 14-of-16 games in these playoffs, the IceCaps are 9-1 when leading after 40 minutes of play. The strong starts, strong play of Michael Hutchinson, and the depth of scoring for the IceCaps has lead them to their first Calder Cup final history.
Again, you really should follow Charles on Twitter. Thanks to the Newfie native for all this insight.

* - 50/50 draws are a common AHL fan event similar to Chuck a Puck at CPC. The team or a charity sells raffle tickets with the guarantee that one winner will be drawn and win half the money raised and the rest will go to charity or the team. They are illegal in Texas because the Texas Lotto is the only party allowed to run a lottery in the state.

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