While the playoffs eluded him again, IceCaps’ coach did what was expected of him

Published on April 25, 2016

St. John’s IceCaps head coach Sylvain Lefebvre stands behind players, from left, Daniel Carr, Markus Eisenschmid and Gabriel Dumont during a game at Mile One Centre this season. Lefebvre hasn’t been able to recreate his personal success in the NHL playoffs — four Stanley Cup conference finals and a championship in 1996 — during his nine years behind an American Hockey League bench. But success for an AHL coach is gauged on more than playoff appearance; it’s also the ability to prepare young players for the next level, something Lefebvre has done exceedingly well.

As an honest defenceman who punched in more than 1,000 National Hockey League games, Sylvain Lefebvre appeared in four Stanley Cup conference finals, and he won a ring in 1996, the year after the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado.

Here it is today, nine years into a second career as a coach in the pros, and Lefebvre can’t even make the playoffs.

Couldn’t do it in two years as an assistant to head coach Joe Sacco with Lake Erie of the American league. Likewise two of the three winters Lefebvre was in Colorado when he and Sacco were promoted to the Avalanche.

And now, four years on his own as an AHL bench boss, Lefebvre is still searching for a shot at Calder Cup play.

Not that he hasn’t heard about it. Some chance. We all have, this being the day and age of social media and the inevitable slagging of everyone and anyone under the cloak of a pseudonym.

But you know what? It says here that not only did Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin do right by keeping Lefebvre in St. John’s for at least another year, there’s an argument to be made Lefebvre deserves a coach of the year award.

Might be stretching it a bit, but you get the point.

Yes, the St. John’s IceCaps missed the playoffs. Agreed, they will finish under .500 (if you include overtime losses and shootout losses as, well, losses).

But if the primary purpose of a minor league coach is to, as we’re told time and again, prepare the youngsters for the big club, Lefebvre’s mission was accomplished.

Consider this: the IceCaps and Canadiens had 20 different players wear both jerseys this season; St. John’s went through 51 players this season (hands up who remembers Luc-Olivier Blain); the IceCaps have missed 209 man-games lost to injury, the Canadiens over 350.

When the Canadiens needed bodies, it wasn’t Luc- Oliver Blain off to Montreal. Rather, Mark Barberio, or Sven Andrighetto or Daniel Carr.

That’s the thing. The players Lefebvre readied for the NHL delivered.

Along with those three, Charles Hudon had a pair of assists in three games with Montreal. Michael McCarron proved he can play as a (just-turned) 21-year-old.

Jacob de la Rose is better defensively than any other 20-year-old ( if only he didn’t wear welding mitts around the net instead of hockey gloves).

Lucas Lessio had his moments. Even the most unlikely of callups, defencemen Joel Hanley, Darren Dietz and Ryan Johnston, played well in their auditions. Lefebvre did something right. “From Day 1 at camp, our goal is to make the playoffs, and it hurts (not moving on to the post-season),” Lefebvre said. “It hurts.” Lefebvre knows as much as anyone — more so, actually — that injuries and callups doomed his club. Not that he’s complaining.

The IceCaps are here to serve the Canadiens.

He’s not trotting out excuses, not reminding anyone who will listen there were times towards the end of the season when his team was still in it — at least that’s what the math said — and he stared down the bench only to have ECHL players looking back at him.

“When you analyze what happened, there are a lot of things that you could not have predicted,” he said, “and a lot of things that are tough to overcome.

“When I took the job, I knew what I was getting into because I had lived it in Lake Erie with the (AHL’s) Monsters. We had some injuries and Colorado had injuries, but that’s the league.

“And when a guy gets called up, let’s be honest, it’s usually the guy who’s doing the best on the ice for you.”