St. John’s Maple Leafs season preview

By Adam Gonsalves





The Binghamton Senators are in the process of assembling their third<br />team since being brought to life by the NHL’s Ottawa fran

It is a time of transition in St. John’s this season. With more than eight regulars not returning
to the team, the Baby Leafs will have a very different look. Gone are leading scorers Aaron Gavey and
Josh Holden, starting goalie Sebastien Centomo as well as No. 2 defenseman
Pierre Hedin. After finishing last
season with a record of 32-40-8, the Leafs will be looking to rebound from last
season’s disappointing performance, but might be hard-pressed given the high number
of new young faces in the lineup.

Goaltending

Due to the NHL lockout, the
Leafs are getting a boost in goal with AHL veteran Mikael Tellqvist once again
taking the starting role for St. John’s.
After a less then spectacular performance at the World Cup, many have
begun to question whether or not Tellqvist will ever be good enough to
start in the NHL. But given his
performance for the Baby Leafs last season, this might finally be the year that
he dominates the AHL.

The backup situation is
much less assured as there are three goalies fighting it out to back-up the
Buds this year. After a bad year in
which he was outplayed for the starting job in Prince George by fellow Leaf
prospect Justin Pogge, Todd Ford will make his professional debut
this season. Once thought of as a strong up and comer, Ford will be in
tough to establish himself after such a poor season last year, especially as a
rookie to boot.

J.F. Racine has been with the Toronto
organization as long as Tellqvist has, as he was drafted in the same round, in
the same year. Over the past two
seasons, Racine has dominated the CHL posting a 37-19-5 record with a 2.73 GAA
and .910 save percentage. A late season
call up to St. John’s last season, Racine posted an even better save percentage
then he had with Memphis of the CHL.
Thus, it is felt by many that Racine will likely win the job behind
Tellqvist, due to his short but strong performance with the club last season.

The third goalie battling
it out with Racine and Ford is newcomer Frederic Cloutier. After spending the past two seasons bouncing
back and forth between Louisiana and Houston in the Minnesota organization,
Cloutier is a longshot to challenge Racine and Ford for the backup role on the
Rock. After an unbelievable rookie
season in 2001-02, in which he was named ECHL Rookie of the Year, Cloutier has
yet to even come close to repeating the performance. In all likelihood, he will again be a stalwart on the double A
level, possibly starting for the organization’s newest affiliate in Pensacola.

Defense

With most of the defense
corp from last season returning, this is a group many feel will not require
much work in terms of developing chemistry.
In fact, due to the glut that St. John’s currently has on the blueline,
there may not be many jobs up for grabs at all. Returning are regulars Brendan Bell, Carlo Colaiacovo, Jay
Harrison,
Marc Moro and Regan Kelly. Thus, there are five players, all rookies, looking to crack a
deep blueline in St. John’s.

Having said that, after
being described by many as the worst defensive team in the AHL last season,
expect Head Coach Doug Shedden to make own-zone coverage a priority this
season. This is the one area of the
club that did not receive any additional help from the lockout, except for
retaining their best defenseman Colaiacovo, who most expected to graduate to
the NHL this season. While in all
likelihood the regulars from last season will retain their spots, Shedden made
no bones about his opinions of the defensive performance of last season’s team,
which may work to the new players’ advantage.
Also, given the high amount of stay at home defensemen currently on the
club, it may give Ian White and Dominic D’Amour some priority
over the others.

Offense

It is offensively where St.
John’s will be receiving the biggest boost from the NHL lockout. Despite the fact that there are only eight
regulars returning from last season’s club, there are some highly touted young
players, as well as some NHL players looking to make an impact on the club.

At center, the Baby Leafs
will boast one of the best rosters the team has had in years with last year’s
NHL rookie standout Matt Stajan making his AHL debut. With Stajan having skipped AHL competition
and moved straight to the NHL from the OHL, he is new to Newfoundland. Also returning is AHL rookie scoring leader Kyle
Wellwood
, who will be looking to further prove his skeptics wrong and have
an even better season then last year.
While there are several players on the team who can play both center and
wing, expect them to be given preference due to their performance last season
at the position.

Given the vast number of
young players that were hoping to make their AHL debuts this season, the Leafs
surprised some by replacing some of the veterans from last season’s club with
new veterans. Joining the crop of young
players in St. John’s will be AHL vets David Ling and Jason MacDonald. Both are expected to take on leadership
roles on the club as well as provide some offensive punch to a very young
lineup. Also, Nathan Perrott has
agreed to an AHL contract and will make his St. John’s debut. After having a long standing vision problem
corrected in the offseason, Perrott might prove to be a surprise for the team
as well as adding an element of toughness that some felt was lacking from the
club last season.

John Ferguson Jr. was very
busy in the offseason, not only signing veterans for St. Johns, but also
looking for seeming cast-offs that might still have a chance to impress. Entering the fold are players Cam Keith,
Brett Engelhardt and Matt Hubbauer. After a brief stint with Hartford in the AHL last season, Cam
Keith will be working to use his physical skills to impress the coaching staff
and earn a role-playing spot with the team.
Known mainly as a power forward in college, Keith is one of the bigger
forwards fighting for a position with the team and at 6’3, 210 lbs. will be
relied upon to take the body and provide some support for the smaller skilled
players.

Matt
Hubbauer has already turned quite a few heads during the preseason and is
hoping to carry his success over on to the team. After having a career-threatening tumor removed from behind his
eye earlier this year, Hubbauer was told to write off hockey. After a poor start to his pro career ended
in him playing for the University of Manitoba, Hubbauer decided to ply his
trade with the new reality show, Making The Cut. Surprising quite a few people with his performance seems to have
earned him the attention of John Ferguson and Mike Penny, as both were noted as
being quite impressed with him. With so
many spots open on St. John’s there is every reason to believe that Hubbauer
will suit up.

As
perhaps testament to the parent club’s repeated trading of draft picks for
veteran players over the past couple of seasons, only two forwards enter camp
from junior hockey. Jeremy Williams
impressed many last season with his transition to the right wing as well as
challenging for the scoring lead in the WHL.
With the right side seen as a weakness for the organization, Williams
will be given every opportunity to play and improve. The other junior grad is Chris St. Jacques. After enjoying a highly successful WHL
season as well, St. Jacques will be in tough to crack a roster that already has
several small, scoring forwards.

Outlook

As this is the last year that the St. John’s Maple Leafs
will reside in Newfoundland, the goal will be to make the playoffs and give the
fans one last cheer before the Baby Leafs head for their new home in
Toronto. Expect the fan turnout to be
as a robust as it can be. There are
several new faces, but those faces are expected to make an impact on this team
for the better. Expect a renewed vigor
throughout the team, if only to make the last season on the Rock a memorable
one.

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editorial staff.