The last time the Albany Devils visited Mile One Centre was during the first round of the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs. The team’s trip to face the St. John’s IceCaps Friday and Saturday this weekend are not playoff games, but they carry major implications.
Albany is seven points out of the playoffs with 19 games remaining. St. John’s is one of three teams standing between the Devils and the final playoff position.
“It’s a fun place to play,” said Head Coach Rick Kowalsky about returning to Mile One Centre. “It’s a tough place to play. We were there two years ago and then up last year for the playoffs. We need to play playoff-type games. We go back to the building where we had a couple good games. As far as that, this is more about what we need to do and not look past Friday.”
Since the Devils are only playing two games this weekend, Kowalsky said his lineup will be set based on need and not necessarily about resting players.
“It’s about winning,” he said. “If I have to shorten the bench in either game I will. If I feel someone can help us whether it’s more speed, more toughness, everything right down to the goaltending. We need points.
“We have to do what’s best for the team with no travel and back-to-back games on the road — no three-in-three. Last weekend, we utilized the lineup the best we could and I think it did help us. Right now, it’s about getting points and staying in this race.”
Kelly Zajac, who has battled injuries for most of the season, will be out this weekend with a lower-body injury.
“Not so much hurt as some lingering things that he can’t shake,” Kowalsky said. “Could he play right now? Possibly, but he saw the doctor yesterday and he has some soreness in some areas. We decided that with the travel to leave him here and let him rest and hopefully get ready for next weekend.”
Travel in the AHL consists of mainly day trips to and from arenas. The Devils travel to St. John’s provides a unique opportunity for the players to immerse themselves in comradery.
“We don’t have a lot this year,” Kowalsky said of longer road trips. “This one, the Norfolk trip and other than that it’s day trips or you get in the night before at dinner time and you’re out. We are together from eight in the morning until midnight tonight. Then all day tomorrow, practice on the road and a chance to maybe see the sights, have lunch together, have breakfast together. A good dinner tomorrow night and then get ready for what’s obviously a real important weekend for us.”