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Heartfelt sendoff for first-year IceCaps

May 23, 2012
Photo: Jeff Parsons

(CP) -- The fans of the IceCaps gave their team a rousing ovation Tuesday as it became clear St. John’s would be eliminated from the playoffs.

Dustin Tokarski stopped all 29 shots he faced and the Norfolk Admirals shut out the IceCaps 4-0 to complete the four-game sweep of the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference final.

Norfolk will play the winner of the Western Conference final between the Toronto Marlies and Oklahoma City Barons for the AHL’s Calder Cup. Toronto leads that series 2-1.

The hometown crowd cheered for the closing minutes of play to cap off the AHL’s return to St. John’s, N.L.

“It’s great, the crowd had our back all season long,” said rookie John Albert. “We wanted to do our best to win for them. It’s disappointing, I guess you can say.

“It’s a great feeling to know they support us that much, and it’s an unfortunate way to go out but we really appreciate what they’ve done for us.”

The AHL returned to St. John’s when the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg on May 31, 2011, and were re-christened the Jets.

The Manitoba Moose became the Jets’ new farm team and moved east to Newfoundland where they were re-named the IceCaps.

Previously, the St. John’s Maple Leafs had played in the city from 1991 to 2005.

IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge has been around the AHL for decades as a player and a coach and was impressed by St. John’s fan support. All 46 home games at Mile One Centre through the 2011-12 regular season and playoffs were sold out.

“With regards to the fans, the cheers, the staying behind without a person leaving, them giving the players a standing ovation was something special,” said McCambridge.

Evan Oberg and Tyler Johnson both scored in the first period for Norfolk. Trevor Smith had a goal in the second and Brandon Segal chipped in in the third.

Eddie Pasquale made 38 saves for St. John’s.

Johnson and Segal scored their goals on the power play as the Admirals had five man advantages. The IceCaps couldn’t score on their seven power plays.

McCambridge knew they would be facing a tough opponent in Norfolk, and he believes the Admirals ability was shown in the way they shut down the IceCaps’ offence.

“Anytime you can only score two goals in four games, one on the power play, you know you’re playing against a very good opponent,” said McCambridge. “They put together that record that they had during the regular season for a reason.”

Albert said there was a belief among his teammates they could win the championship.

“Obviously, we’re pretty upset. We had a lot more expectation,” said the 23-year-old centre. “Our goal this season was to win the Calder Cup, and we thought we had the team to do it.”

Albert knows that making it into the final four is something to be proud of even though St. John’s wanted more.

“Making it to the third round, four teams left in the league, that’s a great accomplishment. Our goal was to win it all, for the fans, everyone in the locker room, to do it for the guy beside you.”

The opening period began with a heavy push from the Admirals. Norfolk forced Pasquale to make five saves in the first four minutes of the game.

Cory Conacher took multiple penalties in the first period, keeping the Admirals a man short for six minutes. Conacher took a double-minor and another minor shortly afterwards.

St. John’s did not capitalize on those chances, however, and were still behind on shots after the power plays.

The Admirals outshot St. John’s 18-7 in the first and registered two goals in just over a minute and a half to take the early lead.

Oberg opened the scoring at 15:15 and Johnson added to the lead at 17:47.

Oberg’s goal was a back-hander from within feet of the net after a cross-crease pass. Johnson’s goal was a wrist shot from the point through a screen.

The second period was just as dominant for the Admirals.

Norfolk outshot St. John’s 15-8 in that period and scored an additional insurance goal to put the lead at 3-0.

Smith’s goal came at 1:41 when he tipped a slap shot past Pasquale.

The final dagger came from Segal at 9:28 in the third. Segal put home a power-play goal from close range.