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Falcons making maritime road trip to face St. John's

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets


The overwhelming majority of travel in the American Hockey League is done by charter bus.

For those rare occasions that require an airplane, a great deal of planning is required to make sure everyone gets where they need to go. The Springfield Falcons are in that boat (or plane?) this weekend, making their only trip to maritime Canada to face the St. John's IceCaps in scenic Newfoundland.

If you follow Falcons broadcaster Mike Kelly on Twitter -- and you should -- you would know that the team's path to St. John's was a lengthy one. The team bus left Springfield just before 3 a.m. on Thursday and shuttled the traveling party to Boston, where they would be flying into Toronto.

From Toronto, another flight took them to one of the easternmost cities in Canada to cap off a 12-hour excursion: quaint, breezy St. John's, home of the Winnipeg Jets' top affiliate.

And the IceCaps, while not the most convenient of opponents in terms of travel, are familiar with the Falcons after opening their season at MassMutual Center.

A pair of convincing wins by the Falcons back in October set the stage for an intriguing match-up this weekend at Mile One Centre, where the IceCaps are on a nice little roll and have positioned themselves within a point of Atlantic Division-leading Worcester.

St. John's has earned points in seven of its past 10 games and is averaging a shade under three goals per game on home ice, so there won't be any shortage of confidence or motivation from the IceCaps when the puck drops tonight.

One thing to watch intently as the game gets going: can the Falcons get committed to erasing some early-game mistakes from the past few weeks that have cost them valuable points? To summarize: Springfield has lost four overtime/shootout games in its last 10 outings, squandering opportunities to forge ahead of Syracuse and take over first place in the Eastern Conference.

It might sound too "big picture" to talk about leading the conference in early December, but the Falcons have been in the driver's seat almost from the outset and it's important they maintain a steady pace.

Here's what we know as tonight's contest approaches:

-- Springfield holds a six-point lead over Connecticut in the Northeast Division, which seems a bit more comfortable considering how well they've played against the Whale. One team to watch in that division is Adirondack, lurking 10 points back: the Phantoms have a ton of talent but have struggled with inconsistent goaltending.

--The IceCaps will be holding a "Teddy Toss" during the second intermission. Last year, the club collected over 3,000 stuffed bears that were delivered by the Salvation Army to children in need. No matter where you are, these events are awesome.

-- St. John's is led in scoring by veteran defenseman Derek Meech, a one-time member of the Detroit Red Wings organization. Meech got a taste of NHL action last season in Winnipeg, as well.

-- Young, dynamic Alex Burmistrov is enduring an up-and-down season so far. He's played 22 games for the IceCaps but only scored two goals and totaled 11 points, good enough for fourth-best on a team that doesn't put up a lot of offense.

-- Curtis McElhinney has certainly bounced back after a rough weekend back in November. He hasn't won every night, but he's back to making the important saves to keep his team moving along. Last weekend, he also made a couple of those "holy moly" stops that give an extra boost to the bench.

-- The Falcons assigned Pat Cullity to Idaho (ECHL) a couple of weeks after signing him for insurance on defense. It looks as if Will Weber is healthy and ready to return if called upon, thus the roster shuffle. With Greg Amadio still out, Springfield can use all the depth on defense it gets.

-- We'll end on this: the Falcons have the AHL's best road record at 6-1-1, and in those eight road games, they've accumulated seven points in the standings. Springfield has scored five goals in four consecutive road contests, which is typically good enough to get the job done.

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