Calder Cup talk ramping up in St. John's

MONTREAL, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 20: Brock Trotter #59 of the Montreal Canadiens battles for the puck with Raymond Sawada #12 of the Dallas Stars during the NHL pre-season game at the Bell Centre on September 20, 2011 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Stars defeated the Canadiens 6-3. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

This weekend the IceCaps finally return home for a six game stand at Mile One Centre. It’s been nearly a month since they last played here on St. John’s ice, and this most recent road swing hasn’t been as kind as most, with the team going just 2-3-1 in their last six.

The time away from home will clue up on Tuesday against W-B Scranton, and things will kick off here in the city on Friday against the Hershey Bears.

The IceCaps now have a stranglehold on the Atlantic Division, and there’s little doubt they’ll end the season in the Conference’s top three seeds. If the playoffs were to start today, the team would face the Albany Devils (New Jersey’s farm club, of course) in the first round —a team that’s 12 points behind the Caps with more games played. Where the IceCaps have their sights set on this upcoming homestand is obviously the top seed in the Conference.

Though the club hasn’t exactly been lights-out on home ice all season, recently they’ve been much better, reeling off five of six at Mile One in early February. The tides have swayed a little, and the IceCaps, who were once almost unbeatable on the road and terribly average at home have been quite the opposite in the last month. Funny how things even out.

I’m seeing this recent flip-flop as a positive for the team. It’s great that they’ve begun hitting their stride on home ice at this point in the season with the playoffs just around the corner. There’s little doubt they will hold home-ice advantage in the postseason for at least a round or two, and if all goes well in this upcoming stretch of games, they could be in position to hold it down for the entirety of a Calder Cup run.

The IceCaps are currently six points behind the Norfolk Admirals for first in the Conference, but also hold four games (or a possible eight points) in hand. If you look through the entire AHL you won’t find a team with as few regulation losses as the IceCaps at fifteen. The Oklahoma City Barons of the Western Conference have 17 right now, and they too are considered contenders.

In the IceCaps’ own backyard, the Eastern Conference, contenders would include Norfolk, of course, who are currently riding a 12 (yes, twelve) game winning streak. But they’ve also recently had a good piece of their roster removed when Carter Ashton and his 19 goals were dealt to the Marlies — another Western Conference contender. The W-B Scranton Penguins also pose a threat for the title, and they’ve played the IceCaps hard this season, winning both matchups in St. John’s.

With the recent additions of Brock Trotter and Raymond Sawada, the IceCaps have taken steps to gear up for a serious run. I was lucky enough to see Trotter in action three times this season at Mile One, and he seems like a guy built for the playoffs. And he’s been there recently, with 36 playoff games played in the past three years split over the AHL and KHL. Trotter’s most recent run with the Bulldogs in 2010 saw him notch 19 points in 19 games. He then racked up nine in 11 the following year with Riga Dynamo. Trotter is small but plays a grinding style. He can muck it up and chip in points.

Sawada is no stranger to the playoffs himself, after dropping the Calder Cup finals to the Hershey Bears two years in a row as a member of the Manitoba Moose and Texas Stars in 2009 and 2010. He racked up 46 playoff games in that time, and has a total of 52 played at the AHL level.

While neither of these guys present a lot in NHL upside, they’re AHL mainstays that are required for success. By adding both recently, it’s obvious that the IceCaps are about to make a real stab at landing the Calder Cup in their first year on the rock. With Newfoundland being such a hockey-crazy province, the city should be buzzing as we get close to the playoffs.

By stocking up with a couple veterans who can really give them an edge over the next couple months, the IceCaps look ready to turn this Calder Cup talk into a reality.

Email ryanfancey@gmail.com or follow on my blog on twitter here (IceCaps)

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