If there were any worries or concerns whether goaltender Mark Dekanich could recapture his all-star status after reconstructive ankle surgery last season, those fears were eased Sunday afternoon in Hartford, Conn.
Making his first start in a St. John’s uniform, Dekanich stopped 35 shots as the IceCaps registered their first win on the 2012-13 American Hockey League campaign, a 3-2 decision over the Connecticut Whale before 2,081 at the XL Centre, the 15,000-seat former home of the NHL and WHA Whalers.
Dekanich, signed as a free agent over the summer, is looking to regain the form which made him an AHL all-star two years ago while toiling in Milwaukee, Wisc.
Last season was a wash for the 26-year-old product of North Vancouver, B.C., who underwent ankle surgery, costing him all but five games on the year.
“You don’t just lose it,” Dekanich said of climbing back in the goaltending saddle. “It’s sort of like riding a bike. At the same time, I haven’t played a lot in the past year and a half so I felt rusty out there.”
He certainly wasn’t showing it, however.
In fact, Dekanich single-handedly bailed out the IceCaps, who for the second straight game were very much a team looking overmatched for 40-plus minutes.
The IceCaps, simply put, were outplayed again after dropping a 4-2 decision to the Springfield Falcons Saturday night.
“He stood on his head, from the drop of the puck on,” said Spencer Machacek, who celebrated his 24th birthday with the game-winning goal.
“He gave us a chance to win, obviously,” said St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge, “but that save he made in the last couple of minutes in the third period gave us a huge opportunity to win this game.”
With St. John’s clinging to a slim lead, Dekanich came up especially big late, robbing Kyle Jean with a pad save at the side of the net.
Dekanich was signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets last season following his all-star year with the Admirals, with the aim of pushing Steve Mason for the starting job in the NHL.
But fate intervened and Dekanich hurt his ankle, an injury he said was later misdiagnosed by the Blue Jackets. When it was determined there was no other option other than surgery, his left ankle was, “basically reconstructed,” he said.
“It’s great to be healthy again, and it’s fun to be playing again,” he said. “I was trying to play hockey on one leg for a year and it’s not much fun. So I’m having a blast right now.”,
Maxime Macenauer and Zach Redmond also scored for the IceCaps. Kris Newbury, the former St. John’s Maple Leaf, and Kyle Jean scored power play goals for the Whale.
Unlike Saturday night’s season-opener in Springfield, when Carl Klingberg of the IceCaps’ scored first, the only lead St. John’s would enjoy, is was Newbury giving the Whale the initial one-goal edge Sunday.
While St. John’s managed to tie things up in the opening 20 minutes, it was all Connecticut for 40 minutes — the IceCaps could only muster two shots on goal through 16 or 17 minutes of the second.
But then Redmond pinched from his blueline position, took a centering pass from Machacek and wired a shot past Whale netminder Scott Stajcer with 3.4 seconds left in the period.
“That goal was huge,” Machacek. “Any time you get a goal that late in the game, it changes momentum and I thought we came out pretty hard in the third period.”
McCambridge acknowledged the IceCaps were hemmed in their own zone for much of Sunday’s contest, chasing pucks and not finishing checks.
“We couldn’t get anything going in our own zone and that’s something we’re going to have to address,” he said. “That’s a bit of an ongoing concern for us. We have to ensure we’re focused on getting pucks out of the defensive zone, through the neutral zone and playing in the offensive zone.”
A good place to start rectifying that situation would be getting Paul Postma back in the lineup.
Postma, along with John Albert, Ray Sawada, Ray Kaunisto and Ryan Schnell, was left behind in St. John’s, nursing an injury McCambridge said is not long-term.
“He was a big part of the success we had last season,” McCambridge said of the IceCaps’ MVP and top defenceman. “When he’s healthy and we can add him, it’s obviously going to make us stronger.
Veterans Brian Sutherby and Derek Whitmore were scratched for a second straight game Sunday as McCambridge juggled his veterans and exempted players.
The IceCaps have nine vets on the roster, and can only dress six — five regular veterans and one exemption.
“Those guys are going to have to be patient,” he said.
Saturday in Springfield, Matt Calvert, Tomas Kubalik, Ryan Craig and Dalton Smith scored the Falcons. Klingberg and Hunter Tremblay replied for the IceCaps.
It was the season-opening games for both clubs and the Falcons looked hardly like the franchise that has missed the playoffs 10 of the last 11 years, its only post-season appearance coming eight years ago.
Springfield been bolstered by key additions from the parent Blue Jackets as a result of the lockout, namely Ryan Johansen, Tomas Kubalik and Matt Calvert, not to mention a pair of players who arrived via the Rick Nash trade with the New York Rangers, Tim Erixon and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault.
The latter led the Connecticut Whale in scoring last year.
The IceCaps arrive back in St. John’s Monday afternoon and begin preparing for the home-opener this Friday night against the Adirondack Phantoms.