The Winnipeg Jets’ season has been over for two weeks, but many of their prospects on the #4 St. John’s Ice Caps (46-23-2-5) are preparing to take a run at the AHL’s Calder Cup, as they begin their first-round series on Friday agianst the 5th-ranked Albany Devils (40-23-5-8).
The two teams did not meet in the regular season; in fact, their last meeting was over a year ago, on March 27th, 2013. Ice Caps forward Jerome Samson will return to Albany, where he spent three seasons with the former River Rats AHL team, an affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Both teams received a substantial boost, courtesy of their respective NHL clubs: the Jets gained Eric O’Dell, Ben Chiarot, Zach Redmond, Patrice Cormier, Carl Klingberg, and goaltender Michael Hutchinson. The Devils’ Mike Sislo, Tom Sestito, Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas and Adam Larsson re-join the club after spending the remainder of the regular season in New Jersey. The Devils easily have the NHL experience edge over the Ice Caps, with a total of 242 man-games this year, to St. John’s’ 58.
Offensively, the Ice Caps forwards are among some of the fastest in the league, led by captain Jason Jaffray, who had 59 points on the season. The Devils are led by Joe Whitney, who had 53 points in 73 games.
Hutchinson was one of the AHL’s top goaltenders during the regular season, finishing with a 17-5-1 record, and earning his first two NHL wins with the Jets during a late-season call-up. Albany goaltender Keith Kinkaid had the AHL’s third-best goals-against average this year, with 2.29 in 43 games. Connor Hellebucyk, the NCAA’s goaltender of the year, is also with the team, as well as WHL standout Eric Comrie.
The Ice Caps and Devils are two very different teams on the blue-line. St. John’s had three defencemen finish with over 24 points: Zach Redmond, Brenden Kitchon, and Will O’Neill. On the Devils, the highest-scoring defenseman was Raman Hrabarenka with 21 points. 2013 first-round pick Josh Morrissey has already earned a top-six role among the Ice Caps’ blue-liners since joining the club in the final games of the regular season. He will be up against Devils’ Adam Larsson, who was a fourth-overall pick in 2011.
The Ice Caps’ 15-game playoff run in 2012 has given the club a huge edge in post-season experience over the Devils. Ice Caps forward Andrew Gordon has 63 Calder Cup Playoff games to his credit, and has twice won it all, with the Hershey Bears in 2009 and 2010. Jason Jaffray hasn’t played a playoff game since 2011 with the Manitoba Moose, but has a series-high 75 games of Playoff experience. In total, 12 Ice Caps have appeared in a Calder Cup Playoff game before.
The Devils have only two players with post-season experience: Tom Sestito (five) and Scott Timmins (ten) are the only Devils with playoff experience. The club is making its first post-season appearance since moving from Lowell, Massechusetts in 2010.
The Devils have the first two home games of the best-of-five series, with the Ice Caps hosting the final three (if necessary), as they have home-ice advantage.
Game One goes Friday and Game Two is on Saturday. Games Three, Four and Five (if necessary) are on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, respectively.
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