Chiarot a big plus for IceCaps

by Robin Short || AHL On The Beat Archive

Until his recent promotion to the Winnipeg Jets, Ben Chiarot was among the St. John’s IceCaps’ leading scorers through the early going of the 2013-14 American Hockey League season, but the number Chiarot is most proud of is not his five points in nine games, rather his St. John’s-leading plus-6 rating.

Now, keep in mind the IceCaps have played only 12 games, and plus/minus numbers don’t always tell the whole story.

As IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge points out, if there’s a difference of four or five one way or the other (plus/minus keeps track of the number of goals a team scores when a player is on the ice, and goals scored by the opposition when the same player is on the ice), not too much can be read into the stat. But if a player is plus-10 and his teammates are hovering around two or three, the player is obviously doing something right.

Not to be mistaken for Bobby Orr, who still holds the NHL record with a gaudy plus-124 established in 1970-71, Chiarot’s plus-6 tops the IceCaps, with rookie Brenden Kichton — Chiarot’s defense partner — next at plus-4.

“Winnipeg is definitely not looking at me to be an offensive guy, a big power-play guy or anything like that,” said Chiarot, who made his NHL debut with the Jets on Nov. 2 before being returned to the IceCaps. “The points are great, the timely goals are great, but the plus/minus is the big thing … protecting the net, protecting my own end of the ice.

“Keeping the puck out of my net is my first priority.”

Chiarot, 22, is technically a third-year pro, but only a second-year AHL  player after splitting his rookie 2011-12 season between the IceCaps and Colorado of the ECHL.

This year, thanks in part to injuries to Zach Redmond and Kris Fredheim, Chiarot has been logging plenty of ice time, and has been the top St. John’s rearguard through the club’s first 12 games.

“He’s taking advantage with injuries to our defensemen and call-ups to Winnipeg, and he’s made the most of it to date,” McCambridge said. “Ben is playing against top lines, and doing a good job at it. Part of his role this year is going to be playing against the other team’s best players, and to date he’s done a good job with that.”

The Hamilton, Ont., native played four years in the Ontario Hockey League, splitting time between Guelph, Sudbury and Saginaw. His best year, from a stats standpoint, came in his final season when he compiled 37 points in 64 games.

Despite some early-season offense, don’t expect Chiarot to start making frequent rink-length dashes. He’s been told what his expectations are, and piling up points isn’t at the top of the list.

“Ben is a prospect — he had a strong camp in Winnipeg — but he has to realize when he gets his chance at the National Hockey League, he’s going to be a No. 6 or No. 7 guy,” McCambridge said. “Those guys have to be defensemen who are just going to get the puck to the forwards. Do that, away they go and he’s done his job.

“He’s done that well, but I also feel with Benny, because he’s such a big man who skates well, the physicality has to be there, too. Guys who fit that role in the in the National league — a five, six or No. 7 guy — they play physical, they move pucks up to the forwards and they’re hard to play against.”

No doubt the chance to play has helped Chiarot’s game this season. But not to be overlooked is the simple maturation process. How things are done in the pros is no longer new to Chiarot, and neither is the player new to the coaches.

“I think the big difference (between this season and previous two years) is just the confidence the coach has in me,” he said. “You feel more comfortable, and they’re comfortable with you.

“I know what they expect of me, how they want me to play and that’s what I try to do. I like getting lots of ice and being relied upon in important parts of the game, like when there’s a minute left and we’re protecting a lead.”

As for the partnership with Kichton, it’s worked famously since the first time McCambridge matched the Ontario native with the 20-year-old Albertan.

Kichton, the Western Hockey League’s top defenseman last season, has eight points, with two goals and six helpers.

“Right from the get-go, me and Kitch have played well together,” Chiarot said. “He’s a great offensive defenseman, great at moving that puck and me, being a more stay-at-home guy, it works perfectly.”

Robin Short covers the St. John’s IceCaps and the AHL for The Telegram