It was last Victoria Day weekend when it broke that the AHL would be returning to St. John’s as part of the Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg, and almost a year later, the fledgling St. John’s franchise is in the midst of a thrilling playoff run. The inaugural season has been nothing but a success on and off the ice, but it’s been the past 4 weeks that have been particularly eye-opening. A four game dispatch of Syracuse and an epic seven game series with Wilkes-Barre Scranton stirs memories of the Leafs run of 1992, but nostalgia aside these playoffs have made a few things apparent.
1. Craig Heisinger is a great AHL GM
With the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, and True North owning the Moose, the IceCaps roster was a marriage of convenience between the Wolves and Moose. There was some concern in local circles over how the two cores would mesh, but Heisinger put those concerns to rest by bringing in veteran leadership over the summer to ease the transition. Jaffray, Rosa, Ramsey, and Murray were all Moose in 2010-2011, but by bringing in Aaron Gagnon and Jason King, Heisinger added two more veterans who have had success at the AHL level.
Where Heisinger has really shown his worth is his mid season acquisitions. In acquiring Brock Trotter and Ray Sawada, “Zinger” added two players who have had playoff success before, and who have been key cogs thus far for the ‘Caps. Going after Trotter was risky given his injury status, but it’s clear that it has been worth it, especially considering McCardle didn’t ever find a role with the team, and Mannino was rotting in the ECHL.
Under Heisinger’s guidance, the Moose were perennial playoff contenders, including a Calder Cup final appearance in 2010. However this may be the best roster he has ever assembled.
2. Eddie Pasquale’s stock has risen
When the 2011-2012 season started, the IceCaps had the dreaded three-headed goalie monster with Aebischer, Mannino, and Pasquale. By Christmas, Mannino was jettisoned to the ECHL, leaving the rookie Pasquale to split games with the former Stanley Cup champion in Aebischer. Aebischer had his moments, but never really looked comfortable in St. John’s, leaving Pasquale to take the reigns. He played well down the stretch as the team, including himself, battled through injuries and call-ups, but it’s been over the first two rounds where Pasquale has established himself.
Against Syracuse, Pasquale stole Game 1, and was solid, if not spectacular, as the IceCaps won the best-of-5 in 4 games despite being consistently outshot. Pasquale didn’t steal any games against the Penguins per se, but it can be argued that he outplayed Brad Thiesson in the series.
Pasquale was a relative unknown at the beginning of this season, but there’s no doubt that he’s asserted himself as the Jets’ # 1 goaltending prospect.
3. St. John’s has its swagger back
When the Maple Leafs played at Memorial Stadium, the city was regarded as having a great atmosphere, and a fun place to play. When they made the move to Mile One in 2001, that reputation did not follow. Leafs games at Mile One were simply brutal, Fog Devils games were worse again. It seemed as if nobody cared about hockey in St. John’s anymore.
After six home games so far in these playoffs, I can assure you this has changed. While I don’t expect this to be the norm for 36 regular season games next year, it has proved that people in St. John’s care about this team, and are willing to finally move on from the Leafs. The atmosphere inside and outside Mile One on game days is nothing short of electric, something this city hasn’t seen since 1992. Finally, our hockey team is able to be used as a sense of pride, and a patriotic outlet.
Who knows what will happen after this spring is over, win or lose. Getting to the third round of the playoffs is a difficult achievement in a 30 team league, so it would be wise to enjoy whatever is left of this ride.
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