The 2011-12 Atlantic Division title belongs to the St. John’s IceCaps after the club defeated the Hershey Bears 3-2 Saturday night. Two tough losses in Norfolk were not enough to deter the injury-riddled club, which is now assured a top three seed in the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs as a result of division winners being seeded one through three.
WEEK IN REVIEW:
Wednesday, March 28 – Norfolk Admirals 2 St. John’s IceCaps 0
With a chance to clinch a playoff spot and potentially the Atlantic Division as well, the IceCaps took on a Norfolk Admirals club that had won 20 straight games coming into the contest. Despite outshooting the Admirals 32-27 overall, the IceCaps were unable to solve goaltender Dustin Tokarski, who recorded his fifth shutout of the season in a 2-0 win. Ondrej Palat scored a backbreaking shorthanded goal midway through the second period and Richard Panik converted on the powerplay five minutes later. David Aebischer kept the visitors around by making 25 saves in the loss.
Friday, March 30 – Norfolk Admirals 2 St. John’s IceCaps 1
The IceCaps had another chance to nail down the Atlantic Division Friday in a rematch against the first place Admirals but ran into another hot goaltender in Jaroslav Janus. Aaron Gagnon staked the visitors to an early 1-0 lead with a power play goal just 2:11 into the opening frame, but the Admirals’ netminder stood tall the rest of the way, stopping 20-of-21 shots. Palat scored his second in two games with a second period marker and Philip-Michael Devos potted the game-winner at 10:41 of the third period. Aebischer was once again sharp, making 25 saves but ultimately dropping his second straight decision against the conference leaders.
Saturday, March 31 – St. John’s IceCaps 3 Hershey Bears 2
With one more shot at clinching before heading back home, the IceCaps were determined to leave Hershey with two points and a division crown. The team put in a complete 60-minute effort in securing its first-ever playoff berth – and Atlantic Division title – with a tidy 3-2 win over the Hershey Bears. Mike Carman got the home side on the board first with a deflection past goaltender Chris Carrozzi, who was making his first start for the IceCaps. After that, it was all St. John’s. Patrice Cormier sniped his 16th just 3:48 later to tie it at one, and Arturs Kulda pulled the IceCaps in front with a breakaway goal at 10:26 of the middle frame. Cormier added his 17th at 8:34 of the third for a 3-1 lead, and despite a late goal by newlyminted Reebok/AHL Player of the Week Ryan Potulny, the IceCaps hung on for the 3-2 victory, ensuring a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs.
The IceCaps wrap up the home portion of their 2011-12 regular season schedule with four games in six nights, beginning with a pair of contests version Atlantic Division rival Portland Tuesday and Wednesday. St. John’s holds a 3-2-0-1 edge against the Pirates this season and won their last meeting 3-0 on Jan. 28 in Portland.
This coming weekend, the IceCaps welcome the Springfield Falcons for their first visit to Mile One Centre. The clubs have met just once this season, back on Oct. 29 at Springfield, with the Falcons coming away victorious 4-3 in overtime.
- Giving it the Old College Try: The IceCaps once again dipped into the college ranks in bringing in D Will O’Neill on an amateur tryout contract last Tuesday. The University of Maine alum made his pro debut Wednesday in Norfolk and played all three games last week, recording one shot and four penalty minutes with a plus-1 rating.
- Maxwell, Carrozzi return: Offensive C Ben Maxwell was reassigned to St. John’s Saturday and will join the team for the upcoming home stand. G Chris Carrozzi was recalled from Ontario (ECHL) last Tuesday and made his season debut Saturday in Hershey, winning the division clinching game to earn his first professional victory.
- Injury Update: D Derek Meech and C Marco Rosa continue to progress as they have returned to the ice for practice. D Paul Postma and F Jason Jaffray remain out indefinitely, as does F Max Macenauer and C Eric O’Dell. D Brett Festerling is the most likely of the group to return this week.
- Another First: With the division title wrapped up, the IceCaps became the first team since the 2002-03 Binghamton Senators to win a division in its inaugural season.
- Going, Going, Gone: With 34 straight sellouts to date, the IceCaps can become the first team since the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to record a full season of sellouts (both the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons).