Worcester IceCats 2002-03 Season Recap

By Darryl Hunt

Just before the season began some called this team “the greatest IceCat team of all time”, that this team was going to do things no IceCat team had done before.

They were right, the Cats had never been swept out of the playoffs until this season.

The Cats did have some issues with injuries and recalls to St. Louis, but those weren’t the main problem. The problem seemed to be a lack of effort from several of the players that had been expected to lead this team deep into the playoffs. Players like Marc Brown and Mark Rycroft did not have the type of season that was expected of them. While both were injured for parts of the year neither played well during the season, excepting a few 2 or 3
game spurts. Unfortunately, it was those spurts that made the rest of the season stick out.

Almost every forward had a tough couple months around the All-Star break, and because of this slump the Cats had a very tough time winning games. If it wasn’t for the outstanding goaltending of Curtis Sanford this team would have had many problems even qualifying for the playoffs. Some players never came out of their slumps. Blake Evans’ strong first half was wasted by almost disappearing after January. Greg Davis’ slump was so bad he was assigned to Peoria, returning only for the IceCats’ playoff game 3 loss to Binghamton.

Defensively the Cats were pretty good even with the losses of Aris Brimanis (injury) and Matt Walker (recall). Rookie Mike Stuart played a vital role showing that he belonged in the AHL, and Jame Pollock, mired in the worst slump of his career until he was moved back to defense, picked up the slack. The resurgence of Terry Virtue also helped to make this IceCats defensive corps one of the best this team has ever had.

Like with the Blues, goaltending was a major issue for the Cats. With injuries to Sanford and Reinhard Divis while playing in St. Louis the Cats chose to go with rookie Phil Osaer over Cody Rudkowsky. I think that was one of the core issues with this team–Osaer was not ready to play at this level and the team obviously did not have much confidence in him. Rudkowsky spent much of the season in Trenton of the ECHL after Sanford’s return, leading the Titans in many goaltending stats.

The IceCats did make some great additions during the regular season, signing forwards Ernie Hartlieb and Chris Corrinet to PTOs and recalling Greg Day and Stuart from Peoria. They all played a huge roll in helping the Cats right the ship and avoid the AHL’s qualifying round.

There were a few high points this season, some of which include an 11-0 win vs division rival Providence and the dramatic comeback vs Manchester where the Cats trailed by 5 with 14 minutes to go in the 3rd to win 7-6 in OT. But there were far too many low points, capped by being swept by Bingo in the 1st round of the playoffs.

I’d label this season “very disappointing”, but with some of the young core talent returning and the addition of some of the Blues current Junior and NCAA prospects the future looks bright–for both the IceCats and the Blues.