Some Perspective

I have a sort of personal post for you all today. It’s not about the IceCaps, and to be honest it is only marginally about hockey.

On Wednesday, January 11th, we lost somebody, who despite his short time on this Earth has inspired everybody that has had the privilege of speaking with him.

His name is Joshua King. He was a 12-year-old Corner Brook native who was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that causes a buildup of fluid in the lungs and impacts many other organ systems as well. From the day he was born, Joshua struggled with his disease, enduring procedures and pain that could bring a man twice his age to the point of despair.

The most compelling aspect of Josh’s personality however, was his ability to take it all in stride. Never one to make excuses, Josh would never be found with anything other than a smile on his face and a story on his lips. Joshua was my girlfriend’s cousin. Over my 9 years with her, I have met him several times and heard countless stories about his endless enthusiasm for life. He was aware of the effects that his condition would have on the length of his life and seemed to relish in it by making the best of every single day. I have never been around a more intelligent, thoughtful, and respectful young man. I only wish I had the opportunity to get to know him even better.

Josh was an enormous hockey fan. In particular, he loved the Leafs. He got the chance to meet many of the players over the past few years at the Air Canada Centre with the Sick Kids program and it was thrilled to do so, regardless of why he was in that position in the first place. Josh loved to play hockey as well. When his condition deteriorated to the point where skating became difficult, Josh, who wanted nothing more than to continue playing the game he loved, switched to playing between the pipes. This is what hockey is about, folks.

Late last year, after years of waiting, Josh received a double-lung transplant. By the middle of this week, his young and fragile body could take the strain no longer.

With all of the talk these past few week about the Montreal Canadiens language disputes and All-Star snubs, it’s easy to lose sight of what hockey is all about. As Josh showed throughout his life, hockey is about heart. Hockey is about the determination to fight through the toughest battles life can put in front of you, and keeping your head high when the going gets tough. It’s not about media scuffles, politics, or managerial decisions – it’s about doing what you have to do to play the game you love to play. This is how he played the game, this is how he lived his life.

Joshua King lived by these standards, and so should the rest of us.

For more information on cystic fibrosis and to make a donation for research, please click here.

To leave a message on Joshua’s Facebook page, please click here.

Thank you for reading. Follow me and The Ice Flow on Twitter.

2 Months Deep: How NHL Teams are Using Their AHL Affiliates

Your newest Winnipeg Jet, Carl Klingberg - Courtesy of Global Winnipeg

As of December 1st, the NHL landscape looked like this in terms of the overall standings: (Oh by the way, if you predicted that a) Minnesota would lead the league after 2 months and/or b) Anaheim would barely have it’s head above water at this point, e-mail me, and I’ll let you make each of my personal decisions for the whole of 2012)

1. Minnesota Wild                        15-7-3                     33pts

2. Pittsburgh Penguins                14-7-4                     32pts

3. Detroit Red Wings                   15-7-1                     31pts

4. Boston Bruins                          15-7-1                     31pts

5. Chicago Blackhawks                14-8-3                    31pts

6. St. Louis Blues                          14-8-2                    30pts

7. Florida Panthers                      13-7-4                    30pts

8. Toronto Maple Leafs                14-9-2                   30pts

9. New York Rangers                  13-5-3                    29pts

10. Philadelphia Flyers                13-7-3                    29pts

11. Phoenix Coyotes                     13-7-3                    29pts

12. Vancouver Canucks               14-9-1                    29pts

13. Dallas Stars                             14-9-1                    29pts

14. Los Angeles Kings                   12-8-4                    28pts

15. San Jose Sharks                      13-7-1                    27pts

16. Buffalo Sabres                        13-10-1                   27pts

17. Edmonton Oilers                    12-10-3                  27pts

18. Nashville Predators                11-9-4                    26pts

19. Ottawa Senators                     12-10-2                  26pts

20. Washington Capitals              12-10-1                  25pts

21. New Jersey Devils                  12-10-1                  25pts

22. Montreal Canadiens               10-11-4                  25pts

23. Tampa Bay Lightning            11-11-2                   24pts

24. Colorado Avalanche               11-13-1                   23pts

25. Winnipeg Jets                          9-11-4                    22pts

26. Calgary Flames                       10-12-1                  21pts

27. Carolina Hurricanes               8-14-4                    20pts

28. New York Islanders                7-11-4                    18pts

29. Anaheim Ducks                       7-13-4                    18pts

30. Columbus Blue Jackets          6-15-3                    15pts

Yes, it’s very early, and no, 9 wins won’t separate 1st place from last place for long – but alas, these are the way things stand as we enter the month of December.

Teams such as the Wild, Panthers, and Maple Leafs are all doing much better than expected, while some usually dominant teams such as the Capitals, Ducks, and Lightning are all floundering. Again however, it’s early. Things can, and almost certainly will change as the season rolls along.

This is all very well and good, but what does it have to do with the AHL or the IceCaps?

I had an idea.

Every 2 months of the season, I will take a look at two things. First, I will look at the NHL standings, given that they depict the successes and failures that the parent clubs of each AHL franchise are having on the ice. Second, I will compare these standings to a second list, which indicates the degree to which each NHL team is utilizing talent from their respective AHL affiliates.  I am looking to examine the relationship between NHL team success and the use of AHL talent, without getting into any statistical analyses.

Below is an Excel Spreadsheet that lists the NHL teams in order, based on how many AHL players they have called up to their main roster in the first 2 months of this season. Take a look.

October and November NHL/AHL Call-ups

For those of you who may be unable to open the document, here are the Top 3, and the Bottom 3 teams in terms of AHL player usage.

1. Philadelphia Flyers (Adirondack Phantoms): 12 call-ups [Legein, Zolnierczyk (twice), Schenn (twice), Rinaldo, Gustafsson, Holmstrom, Wellwood, Bourdon, Marshall (twice)]

2. Buffalo Sabres (Rochester Americans): 12 call-ups [Tropp (twice), MacIntyre, Brennan (twice), Kassian (twice), Szechura (twice), McNabb (twice), Finley]

3. Anaheim Ducks (Syracuse Crunch): 11 call-ups [Newton, Maroon (twice), Jacques (4 times), Bonino, Holland, Guenin, Deslauriers]

…….

28. Tampa Bay Lightning (Norfolk Admirals): 2 call-ups [Ritola, Tyrell]

29. Boston Bruins (Providence Bruins): 2 call-ups [Caron, Hamill]

30. Los Angeles Kings (Manchester Monarchs): 2 call-ups [Voynov (twice)]

From the list, you can see for example, that the Boston Bruins have only made 2 AHL call-ups this season.

As you can imagine, there are a number of reasons why an NHL team would call up an AHLer at any given time. In the example of Boston, they went 12-0-1 in the month of November. When a team is rolling like that, why would you rock the boat by bringing in somebody new and potentially mess things up? Obviously, one factor involved in determining the number of call-ups a team will make is the success the initial NHL lineup has (typically). The inverse can be seen in the case of the Anaheim Ducks, who are currently 29th in the NHL. When things aren’t going so well for an NHL club, the desire to call-up an AHL player quite clearly increases. Anaheim for example, sits in 3rd with 11 call-ups so far this season while struggling from the get go, including calling up Jean-Francois Jacques FOUR times (tied with Detroit’s Brendan Smith and Fabian Brunnstrom for the most of any AHL player so far this season).

Another factor that determines AHL involvement is injuries.The Pittsburgh Penguins, who have done remarkably well given that they have been obliterated by injuries, have made 8 call-ups in the first 2 months of the season (9th overall) to address the gaps in the lineup that had to be filled at short notice. The same is true for teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs. When the Leafs suffered injuries to their #1 goalie, 2 of their Top 6 D-men, and 5 of their starting forwards, the AHL Marlies were used rather often to plug the holes.

In the case of your St. John’s IceCaps, the Jets have called up 7 different players at different times to address injury issues and shake up the struggling lineup (12th overall). Those players are Peter Mannino, Mark Flood, Brett Festerling, Paul Postma, Jason Jaffray, Arturs Kulda, and most recently, Carl Klingberg. Interestingly, if the list I drew up ranked teams in terms of the number of unique call-ups in the first 2 months, they would be tied for 3rd in the league, with 7 different players making the trip to the big club. Only the Leafs, Blue Jackets, Panthers, Wild, and Flyers have used as many or more of their respective affiliate’s players.

As the season rolls along, it will be interesting to track the progress of the NHL teams while looking at the degree to which they are relying on AHL talent in times of need. As it is only early in the season, the connection should only become more apparent with time. Stay tuned as we follow this going forward.

Follow @Normaniac747 and @SJ_IceCaps on Twitter.

Under the microscope – October: IceCaps trends and player awards

Note: This piece comes by way of Charles Pickett once again. It’s a regular post that will show up every month and discuss who (or what) has been thrown under the bus by fans, a detailed report card, and some IceCaps player awards. Enjoy!

stjohnsicecaps.com

The IceCaps started this season with a bang winning their first two games on the road and boasting a strong home record with only 2 losses in regulation. During the month of October the IceCaps put up an impressive 5-2-3 record which was good enough to see them land a top spot in the Atlantic Division.

With the city St. John’s having gone six years without a AHL franchise, there was a lot of catching up to do. A brand new cast for fans familiarize themselves with. Players names, numbers, and faces were studied – not to mention their play on the ice – and an entire new parent club also entering it’s first year in a new city. And perhaps more importantly, which players fans would come to like the most.

Today I’m going to break down some certain trends I’ve noticed during the first month of the season, starting with the Fan Favourite award.

This months Fan Favourite award goes to Carl Klingberg. The Swedish winger quickly notched six goals in 10 games and added one apple to his total to land him 7 points so far the season. Klingberg started out fast, scoring five goals in 2 games and landing the first hattrick in IceCaps history.

Klingberg’s ability to stick handle past defenders and generate scoring chances alone have put him very high on the fan favourite list to start the season. Klingberg’s game isn’t all offense either; he is also a very defensively responsible forward who does great work on the back-check. His foot-speed makes his game that much more exciting for fans, as he can cut through the neutral zone in what seems like 2 strides on some nights.

And it’s not just his on ice abilities that make Klingberg stand out as this months fan favourite, just take a look at this twitter feed. @Carlklingberg tweets about everything from how unreal the crowd at Mile One has been to his love affair with ketchup and pasta.

Though not every team is lucky enough to have a superstar with a bullet shot and soft hands, you can’t win with these guys alone. On every team there’s a vast supply of good hard working support players who aren’t afraid to mix things up in the corners, go to the dirty areas, and block shots – players who live with a “take one for the team” attitude.

It’s always tough to measure the true value of these guys. They may not fill the net night after night but on seemingly every shift they make a play that can change the pace all together.

This month’s unsung hero is Jason King.

Though King has been exposed to his fair share of fandom from IceCaps fans all across the island, his steady play and quick decision-making in the defensive zone frequently gets overlooked by fans each night. But it’s a relief that his veteran presence can be counted on fully shift after shift. It’s not all defense for King either, who has put up some goals so far , including a rare one on the powerplay.

King’s play is very physical and he’s got a natural knack when it comes to plays along the half-wall. I don’t think I’ve seen him lose a battle along the boards once this season quite a feat for a guy who draws some pretty big minutes. Another big part of King’s defensive game is his ability and willingness to sacrifice his body to take away a shooting or passing lane. In the offensive zone, King continues to go to all the right places and has a net presence like no other member of the IceCaps, which is something I think will play a big part of getting the ball rolling on the powerplay as the season rolls on.

King, a nine-year pro veteran, has had lots of time to hone this skills, and will serve as a solid leader for other role players on this team. Before long you should see scrappy guys like Clark and Cormier emulating his play.

The first month of the season hasn’t been all great, however. There have been things to irk fans and leave people shaking their heads (and yelling from their seats). I’m talking about the struggles on the IceCaps powerplay. With the powerplay blanked on opening weekend, and currently sitting 5-56 (8.9%) on the season, it has found itself under the bus for this first month. The powerplay currently sits last in the AHL. Ouch.

But it isn’t all bad.

The current system on the PP has been subjected to a few subtle changes that may pay off in the goal department. First, I’ve noticed that players aren’t forcing the East-West passing as much of late. This is a good development since a lot of fans started to worry that a speedy player on the opposing team’s penalty-kill would pick off passes and create a short-handed break away situation.

Rather than going cross-ice, the puck as done a lot of traveling North/South from defensemen to a forward along the half wall in the past few games. At the last minute they may try to squeeze a D-to-D pass if the lane is there, but they aren’t forcing them as much as in the first few games.

Another thing to look forward to on this powerplay unit the IceCaps are using is their presence in front of the net. They’ve consistently had a forward going to the net hard. An age old adage in hockey is if you go to the net you’ll be rewarded. It’s doesn’t create the prettiest of plays, and the player in front of the goalie takes a hard thrashing, but it’s been seen effective time after time in seemingly every hockey league.

What I really like about the changes the powerplay is made is their attempt to simplify everything, relying heavily on shots from the point and net presence to create a scramble in front and somebody mop up the rebound. The current defenders on the IceCaps have impressive shots. Mark Flood has a bullet of a slapshot, and has already caught the post a few times this season. Artus Kulda has an amazing talent for finding other players sticks and can wind up a slap-pass similar to that of current NHL defender Ryan Whitney of the Edmonton Oilers.

As ironic as it sounds, some of the current woes of the powerplay can be attributed to just bum luck. The players, I’m sure, are aware of what seems like a never-ending drought with the man-advantage, and must be feeling snakebitten. In the first month we’ve seen pucks dance on the line, hit posts, crossbars and even go bar-to-bar and out. We’ve seen pucks ripped out of mid air from opposing team goalies making highlight reel save. And we’ve also seen fans lose their patience, screaming “SHOOOOOoooT” from nearly every section of the Mile One.

I don’t think it’s a matter of what can be change and if there has to be personnel changes on the PP, I think the small changes they did make and the simplifying tweaks will prove to be successful over time. Right now fans just have to sit and wait for it to either break out or hopefully catch fire. There’s no doubt in my mind the powerplay has been tossed under the bus – I’ve heard it everywhere in the city, from cab drivers to strangers across the bar after a game: … ‘they’ve got to fix the power play… if they scored on half of the powerplay chances we wouldn’t have lost.”

Though some of it may be true, fans aren’t talking enough about how much zone time the IceCaps have managed to spend inside the blue line on the PP, nor about the chances landed.

There’s a big difference between a bad powerplay and a powerplay that just can’t score. Right now the IceCaps fall under the latter of the two. Zone time piles up as other teams defenders are hard-pressed to clear the puck, and sometimes to the point where a player gets suckered into a holding or hooking call because they can’t. If the team can keep that up going forward, it should pay off in goals. For now fans just have to be patient with it.

Recap:

Month of October

Fan Favourite Award: Carl Klingberg

Unsung Hero Award: Jason King

Under the Bus: The IceCaps’ Powerplay

Disagree with anything I said, I’d love to discuss it. Shoot me an email at pickett2112@hotmail.com or follow me on twitter @pickett2112

Thanks for reading, and see you at the rink

IceCaps still tops despite rocky start to road trip

After losing back-to-back overtime games on the road, the St. John’s IceCaps remain at the top of the Atlantic Division with thirteen points. Of course, the Providence Bruins (their most recent opponent) remain at their heels, but the Caps enjoy a game in hand (10GP) and two point lead for now.

Though they’ve lost three straight overall, the IceCaps have done nothing to really bring about panic. They’ve lost two games in the extra frame, but have outshot their opponents by putting up over 40 shots per game – something they’ve done regularly this season.

As long as the team continues to pepper the net and create chances, they should come out on the right end of the decision regularly. And two points in two games on the road? Not so bad.

Now that October has come to an end, it’s time to start seeing what this team is really made of. It’s been a solid start for the IceCaps, but as most hockey fans are well aware, November and December start to really sort things out and separate contenders from pretenders. We’re hoping, of course, that the IceCaps continue to show they can be the latter.

Tuesday night will see the IceCaps face a divisional foe, the Worcester Sharks, for the first time this season. The Sharks have only played six games so far this season, but have yet to lose outside of the shootout (4-0-0-2).

Check in tomorrow for a game day preview as the IceCaps hit the halfway mark on this road-trip.

A few pictures from Saturday night

Just figured I’d share some pictures I took on Saturday during the IceCaps-Bulldogs game (a 6-2 IceCaps win).

Go ahead and click to see the full-size image.