IceCaps coach not thinking about winning the playoff race this weekend
With two weekend games against the visiting Binghamton Senators, the St. John's IceCaps will have reached the three-quarter pole in their 2013-14 American Hockey League season, but even though his team may be entering the stretch run, IceCaps' head coach Keith McCambridge isn't close to contemplating the finish line.
"There's a lot of hockey to be played and the difference right now between being in the mix and being out of the mix is four points," said McCambridge on Thursday after the IceCaps practised in preparation for tonight's game (7:30 p.m.) against the B-Sens at Mile One Centre.
"To start looking at where we're situated and or where everyone else is situated in relation to us or where we might finish ... it's far too soon. Like I said, there's a lot of hockey left."
St. John's (32-19-4) enter tonight's game in fourth place in the AHL's Eastern Conference, but as McCambridge pointed out, the IceCaps are only four points ahead of the Hershey Bears, who sit in ninth and on the wrong side of the playoff dividing line. And the Bears have a game in hand on St. John's.
What's more, most other teams in the Eastern Conference race haven't fallen off the pace. St. John's has gone 11-3-1 in the last five weeks, but that hasn't been enough to create much in the way of separation. And things can change quickly; the Bears, for example, were in fourth place in the conference before a three-game losing streak dropped them five spots.
Hence McCambridge's cautious attitude towards the standings and what they might mean.
"It's an old cliche, but we're living by it: we're only looking at the next game and playing that game at the level we need to. Period, for me."
McCambridge won't even comment on the importance he attaches to staying in the top four in the conference and thereby earning home-ice advantage in the first round playoffs.
"Not even thinking about it now," he said.
So when might he offer his thoughts on this and other standings-related matters?
"Keep asking me and the day will come when I'll tell you," McCambridge said with a wry smile.
There's a good chance that might be the last day of the regular season.
Binghamton (33-17-4), which is coming off a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Marlies Wednesday afternoon at the Ricoh Centre, leads the East Division and is third in the conference standings (division leaders are seeded 1-2-3.)
The Senators are dealing with the recall of two key players to the parent club in Ottawa. Winger Mike Hoffman (30-37-67) was promoted a few days ago, while goalie Andrew Hammond - who played against the Marlies - found himself with the big club Thursday as Robin Lehner's backup while Craig Anderson was in Florida for the birth of his second child.
Goalie Scott Greenham, who spent a little time with the IceCaps last season, has been called up from Binghamton's ECHL affiliate, the Elmira Jackals. He'll likely be backing up Nathan Lawson, although Lawson hasn't played in five games because of illness.
Also coming in from Elmira is defenceman Troy Rutkowski. The B-Sens had only five blueliners dressed for the game against the Marlies, the most noticeable scratch in that regard being Mark Borowiecki, who has missed the last two games because of injury.
Last season, Rutkowski had 66 points for the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks. That was second amongst WHL rearguards, trailing only Brenden Kichton - now of the IceCaps. Kichton posted 85 points for Spokane Chiefs in 2012-13.
IceCaps forward Ryan Schnell, who hasn’t played in a month because of injury, is now fully participating in practices. With Schnell coming off the IR along with winger Josh Lunden, who played last week after being out for four months with a concussion, the St. John’s injury list shows defenceman Kris Fredheim and goalie Eddie Pasquale, who will have season-ending hip surgery Monday in Toronto ... With Hoffman in Ottawa, Stephane Da Costa is the leading scorer on the Binghamton roster with 42 points ... Senators forward Mark Stone is working on an 11-game point-scoring streak, the longest in the AHL this season ... At plus-34, Binghamton defenceman Fredrik Claesson is tied with the Manchester Monarchs’ Vince LoVerde for first in the AHL plus/minus rankings ... The IceCaps and Purolator are once again teaming up for a Shut Out Hunger Food Drive, to be held before Saturday’s rematch against the Senators at Mile One. The event, in support the Community Food Sharing Association, will take place 6:30-7:30 p.m. Fans are encouraged to participate by bringing non-perishable food items to volunteers stationed at the Mile One entrances. By doing so, they will be entered into a draw for a replica IceCaps jersey. As well, each time an IceCaps player scores a goal, Purolator will donate 100 pounds of food to the drive ... The IceCaps and Statoil are seeking nominations of youth volunteers from our community. Fifteen volunteers will be chosen to attend the March 8 game versus the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at Mile One. Nominations may be made by visiting the team website (stjohnsicecaps.com) ...