As the St. John’s IceCaps role into their inaugural season, they do so in the new-look AHL. Instead of four, eight-team divisions – Atlantic, East, North and West – the new alignment includes Atlantic, Northeast, East, North, Midwest and West Divisions with five teams per division. The IceCaps will compete in the Atlantic Division, competing against the Portland Pirates (PHX), Manchester Monarchs (LA), Worcester Sharks (SJ) and Providence Bruins (BOS).
The IceCaps are in for a competitive year, as Portland finished last with 103 points and Manchester finished with 98, placing them in second and fourth in the Eastern Conference respectively. Worcester and Providence finished with 85 and 82 points, placing themselves ninth and tenth. The Chicago Wolves – now the IceCaps players – finished ninth in the Western Conference with 89 points, two points out of a playoff spot. Jet lag should not be as big a problem this year as the ‘Caps play all their games on the Eastern part of North America – the farthest opponent west being Hamilton and farthest south being Norfolk in Virginia, home of the Admirals.
The Caps’ have picked up new talent such as Newfoundland native Jason King, but also lost top three scorers from last year – Jason Krog, Darren Haydar and Jared Ross. Krog, 36, and Haydar, 32, both had great seasons last year with the Wolves, ranking third and fourth in league scoring with 75 and 74 points respectively. Ross finished with 55 points. The Pirates will be without top scorers Mark Mancari, Luke Adam, and Marc-Andre Gragnani who have moved on up to the NHL. Adam and Gragnani with parent club Buffalo and Mancari signed with the Canucks. The Monarchs lost their top scorer Bud Holloway, who signed with Skellefteå AIK in the Swedish Elite League.
World Junior goalie from 2010, Martin Jones, will also be a tough opponent for the IceCaps forwards. He was 23-12 with a 0.923 save percentage last season with the Monarchs and will be returning this season. Anton Khudobin, who was 28-16 last year with the Providence Bruins and Houston Aeros, will also be returning with Providence, as well as Portland’s David Leggio. Jhonas Enroth of the Pirates will be in the NHL, a big loss for the Pirates goal-tending. After Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason, the Jets top goal-tending prospect is Fredrik Pettersson-Wentzel, who may play for the IceCaps this year, along with Peter Mannino and Edward Pasquale.
Other new signings for the IceCaps/Jets include Marco Rosa, Shawn Weller, Kevin Clark, Travis Ramsey, Michael Kirkpatrick, Shayne Wiebe, Jason DeSantis, Jake Marto, Jason Gregoire and John Albert.
While it may seem early to predict the division standings, I’ll do my best. My Prediction for the Atlantic Division: 1st – Manchester 2nd – IceCaps 3rd – Portland 4th – Providence 5th – Worcester