ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The St. John's IceCaps want their opponents to be intimidated when they play at Mile One Centre this season.
"We want to get back to the mentality we had in the first season here in St. John's. No one enjoyed coming here to play us," said IceCaps captain Jason Jaffray. "We were a hard-working and skilled team."
In 2011-12, their first campaign in the American Hockey League, the IceCaps finished second in the East and made it to the conference final.
But they suffered from the sophomore slump last season, finishing second-last in the Eastern Conference with a 32-36-3-5 record, nine points shy of a playoff berth.
"I think we got away from that mentality last year and teams enjoyed coming to St. John's," Jaffray said. "If you look at the guys we brought in, I think the fans are going to be excited."
The IceCaps brought in the likes of Andrew Gordon and Jerome Samson, both 70-point AHL scorers in the past, and will be hoping that can help the team rebound into the playoff race.
"It's now a matter of wait and see, to see how training camp figures itself out, and when the season comes hopefully we have a lot of practice time and we've built chemistry not only in the dressing room but within our lines," said Jaffray.
Gordon is coming off of a 32-point season with the Chicago Wolves and has played for three organizations over a six-year AHL career. He also has 55 NHL games under his belt.
Samson has suited up for 46 NHL games, as well as parts of six seasons in the AHL. Last year he recorded 18 points in 37 games for the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL.
Jaffray expects big things from both players.
"Jerome Samson has put up 75 points in this league before and Andrew Gordon has been a two or three-time all-star, so those guys are going to be relied upon to provide a lot of offence for our team," he said. "Gordon is not only a guy who puts up a lot of points in this league but he's a very hard-working centreman and a guy that can play short-handed, power play and five-on-five."
For the IceCaps, the veteran additions will come in handy.
"We have a large turnover in the veteran core that we had from last year," said Jaffray. "A lot of those guys are gone: Jason King, Aaron Gagnon, Ray Sawada, and those kind of players. It's kind of up in the air now with team chemistry and that sort of thing."
Gordon believes the IceCaps will have to start strong and make use of home-ice advantage to have success.
"It's important for us to have a good start," he said. "In the past, this team has sort of struggled a little bit at home. In a building like this, with our fans, it should be a place where we dominate. We need to make sure home ice advantage is a big thing for us this year. I'm expecting big things from us, and I know some of the other veteran guys are too."
On the defensive end of things, Jaffray predicts a battle for minutes with several young IceCaps looking to fill the void left by departing veteran defencemen.
"Last year we had an extremely young group of D-men that kind of backed up Travis Ramsey and Dean Arsene, and guys like Richard Petiot had stepped in," Jaffray said. "But those young guys are our guys now. They're going to be looked upon to play big minutes, and not only big minutes but on the power play and short-handed. Guys like Julian Melchiori, Ben Chiarot and Cody Sol are going to be huge pieces in our line-up this year. There are no more excuses about being a rookie or not being sure what to do. Now they are veteran guys and they're going to be leaned upon."
IceCaps Head Coach Keith McCambridge expects his players to go out and compete for every inch of ice this season as they embark on the path to developing their game for the next level.
"We want to be a competitive team that competes hard every night," he said. "We want to be a team that can allow those young guys to grow and blossom and develop into good AHL players, which obviously can roll into them being good NHL players."