MONTREAL - The domino effect between the Canadiens and IceCaps was more pronounced than ever this season.
By season’s end, 46 different players had donned the CH in Montreal. If this number sounds staggering consider that 51 different players suited up for St. John’s in 2015-16.
|Bench boss Sylvain Lefebvre recently concluded his fourth season at the helm of the Habs AHL affiliate. |
"You have to give credit to the players who remained here in St. John’s during the wave of recalls to Montreal," explained Sylvain Lefebvre, head coach of the IceCaps who instilled his IceCaps roster with a no-quit attitude that endured until the final buzzer sounded on St. John’s season. "The team’s leadership group does such an incredible job that the new players instantly feel like they are part of the team. They were instrumental in helping the newcomers come on board and adjust to the game plan here in St. John’s.”
When all was said and done, the IceCaps placed 5th in the North Division with a final record of 32-33-8-3.
For Sylvain Lefebvre and his troops, the 2015-16 campaign was a year of transition, primarily due to the relocation of the Canadiens American Hockey League affiliate from Hamilton to their new home in eastern Canada in St. John's.
"In the beginning, you are kind of venturing into the unknown. There are many adjustments to make at the infrastructure level and each staff member has to adjust and adapt to a brand new city,” attested Lefebvre, who was required to change his personal home address four different times during his career as an NHL defenseman. “The move to St. John’s was lightened by the fact that the whole team was making the transition together, which really helped the players with the move. The transition went rather smoothly actually, especially since the residents here in St. John’s worked very hard to facilitate our move. Everyone you meet in the community is a source of positivity as you can tell from the warm reception and the electric atmosphere made by our loyal fans.”
|Mark McMillan was one of many pleasant surprises this season in St. John's. |
That raucous atmosphere referred to by Lefebvre was particular heightened whenever the Toronto Marlies came to town. And for good reason; the Maple Leafs’ minor hockey affiliate used to call St. John’s home in the early 1990’s, winning over the hearts of many Newfoundland residents along the way. "In St. John's, people cheer for either the Canadiens or the Maple Leafs. For years, the residents loyal to the Leafs’ AHL franchise, but once we landed here in St. John’s, the people had a change of heart in favor the Canadiens,” recounted Lefebvre, who oversaw his squad to a 3-2-1 record against the AHL’s top team in 2015-16.
"We had six games against the Marlies this season. Those games were the loudest and most exciting games we played all season. There are, of course, Canadiens and Leafs fans in the stands, but the IceCaps fans make sure their voices are heard too.”
While the IceCaps faithful were disappointed when their favorite team was mathematically eliminated from post-season contention, the devoted fans in St. John’s were able to follow the exploits of some of their favorite players as they transitioned to the NHL in response to a tidal wave of injuries in Montreal.
“This is the reward for our coaching staff. As much as we would like to win at the AHL level, our first and foremost priority is player development. Therefore, it makes us very proud to see guys perform well at the NHL level,” clarified Lefebvre, who most notably oversaw the progression of Sven Andrighetto, Daniel Carr, Joel Hanley, Michael McCarron, Jacob de la Rose and many others who have since taken their first strides as members of the Montreal Canadiens. “We are happy to see them rewarded for their hard work in St. John’s. It’s hard not to cheer for them to succeed when you are watching the Habs games. Live games have you on the edge of your seats and it definitely makes the games more exciting to watch on TV.
If it was important for the younger players in the organization to take advantage of the opportunity to gain valuable playing time in Montreal, it was especially significant for the development of the players who remained in St. John’s and saw their ice-time increase tenfold.
“The experience that our youth core got this season was invaluable. It is one thing to be sent down to the American League, but this is an entirely different scenario,” explained Lefebvre, who was able to rely on the experience of his leadership group throughout the season, including his captain Gabriel Dumont. “Gabriel has been playing hurt. He gave everything he could this season. Same for Bud Holloway, who has been excelling in St. John’s this season. Morgan Ellis also did a great job on the blue-line the whole season long. Moreover, we had some guys who were forced into unfamiliar roles in response to the number of injuries and call-ups to the NHL,” added Lefebvre, who had to cope with a very inexperience 51-man lineup, of which 39% was made up of first-year rookie skaters. “Not to mention the contributions of the young guys here like Mark McMillan, Jeremy Gregory, Brandon McNally, Max Friberg, Michael McCarron, Nikita Scherbak and Charles Hudon.”
On the heels of the 2015-16 season, Marc Bergevin confirmed in his end-of-year press conference that Sylvain Lefebvre and his trusted assistants would return behind the bench for the 2016-17 campaign in St. John’s.
"It's always nice to hear that kind of support. Calling me to let me know I would be back is one thing, but stating publically is another. You might not be worried about your job security, but it is always nice to hear,” noted Lefebvre on the vote of confidence he received from the Canadiens general manager. “The end-goal here in St. John’s is to help with player development. If our roster wasn’t depleted by injuries and call-ups, I think we would have had a good chance at being successful. But at the same time we cannot forget that our priority is development.
To me, if a player deserves to be called up, even if it’s your best player, it’s impossible not to be proud of the guy for being rewarded with the fruits of his labor,” concluded Lefebvre.
Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Jared Ostroff.
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