THE CANADIAN PRESS
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — The St. John’s IceCaps are ready to start anew.
After dropping six of their final 10 games to conclude the American Hockey League’s regular season, the IceCaps are entering a best-of-five series against Syracuse with a fresh attitude.
"Now it’s playoff hockey," said coach Keith McCambridge. "(The players) know that every game means everything. You can’t look too far ahead. Playoffs is a real fun time. The physicality that’s involved, the intensity. Every inch of the ice is a battle."
The series starts Friday in Syracuse.
St. John’s finished with a higher seeding in the Eastern Conference and elected to start off on the road. After two games at the War Memorial, they’ll return home for three games at Mile One Centre, if necessary.
The IceCaps were 23-10-5 outside of Newfoundland and Labrador this season.
"We’ve done pretty well on the road, and it will be a good test for us," said veteran defenceman Travis Ramsey. "The plan obviously is to win both of them. We’re taking it one game at a time, and just focusing on that first game."
St. John’s added a new player to its roster on the eve of the playoffs in forward Mark Scheifele. The first-round pick started the season in the NHL — scoring one goal in seven games for the Winnipeg Jets — before being returned to the Ontario Hockey League.
His Barrie Colts were eliminated from the first round of the playoffs earlier this week.
The Crunch enjoyed some success against St. John’s this season, taking three of four games. The teams are fairly evenly matched despite the fact the IceCaps finished with 10 more points in the standings.
"It doesn’t matter the regular season, everybody starts from scratch," said McCambridge.
St. John’s is looking to up its physical game. Among the players the team will be relying on in that department is forward Garth Murray, who racked up 112 penalty minutes in the regular season on the way to being voted the fan favourite by IceCaps fans.
"We’re not the most physical team, but if every guy is finishing checks and just getting in the way, it makes it harder on the other team," said Murray. "(It will) be nice to see all the boys ramp up their intensity, and I’m sure they will. It’s playoffs.
"If we don’t, I think we might be in trouble."
St. John’s suffered through some injury trouble this season, with up to 11 scratches at one point in March. Forward Maxime Macenauer remains on the sidelines.
The team’s depth, with young players like Eric O’Dell stepping in, was a big reason they clinched the Atlantic Division. O’Dell, a 21-year old rookie, put up seven points in seven April games after being a healthy scratch earlier in the season.
"From the guys that have been here to the new guys, we have a really good mix," said Ramsey. "We are lucky to have that depth in our roster."
Added McCambridge: "If we want to get to where we’re going here in the playoffs, we’re going to use everybody."
Murray, a veteran of 64 AHL playoff games, knows how much of a grind this time of year can be. He believes Syracuse will be a tough opponent, especially since the parent Anaheim Ducks loaded up the Crunch roster.
"Every game is hard in the playoffs," said Murray. "They are going to be going full tilt and every game is going to be tight. I can guarantee it."
After the opening games Friday and Saturday, the series will shift back to St. John’s for Game 3 on Wednesday night. The IceCaps have been a smashing success in their first season of existence and expect their passionate fanbase to take it to another level during the playoffs.
"It’s awesome," said Murray. "It’s always the most fun time of year. I think with this town they haven’t had the playoffs here for awhile with the team being gone (since 2005).
"So I’m sure the energy will be ramped up in the building, hopefully after a couple wins on the road."