ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- Making the playoffs in a team's first season is usually a sign of success, but the St. John's IceCaps wanted to do more than make a token appearance in the American Hockey League post-season.
The IceCaps wanted victory, and they came within a series of going all the way to the Calder Cup final. St. John's advanced to the semifinals before bowing out to the powerhouse Norfolk Admirals.
IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge says the team has sampled playoff success, and now they're ready to show they're not a one-season wonder.
"The whole city, ourselves included as the staff, got a real taste for playoff hockey this year," McCambridge said.
"We would like to, again, push hard and deep into the playoffs to be one of the final four teams and then some."
McCambridge, who is entering his second year as head coach, knows a lot of things need to go right if the team is to repeat last year's efforts.
"It's a long season, there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle that need to stay in place," he said. "Injuries obviously are one. When the NHL is moving, call-ups get factored in too.
"To look at your team on paper is one thing, but when they are on the ice those intangibles hop in. We have to see what our identity is going to be."
Carl Klingberg, who scored 15 goals as a rookie last season, says a large returning cast gives the IceCaps the promise of another playoff push.
"We have basically a lot of the guys from last year," he said. "We have an opportunity, we have a lot of new veterans, I think we have an even better team this year. Every other team has it too because of the lockout, so it's hard to tell. Start with the first games and try to win those."
Klingberg says the team has a rare locker-room atmosphere, led by veterans Jason King and Jason Jaffray, where everybody gets along.
"A lot of the base guys are still here," he said. "We have a good atmosphere in (the locker-room). Lots of good, hard people. In teams, sometimes people hate each other, and can't stand another guy. On this team, everybody likes each other and that's what makes us so good I guess. We have a team that fights for each other, lots of heart."
Team captain Jaffray, who suffered a season-ending neck injury that required surgery just before the beginning of playoffs, found it difficult sitting out for the post-season.
"It was tough," he said. "When you're with the guys and you battle all year to get to the playoffs, and you're not able to play due to injury, it's something you strive for all year. To get down to the final four was an accomplishment for any team, especially a team in the first year of its existence."
Jaffray, who was one of the team's leading scorers last season with 17 goals in 47 games, believes fans are in for a pleasant surprise this season especially if the NHL lockout continues.
"I don't know if people realize how much the trickle down effect's going to affect the teams and how good the calibre of hockey is going to be this season," he said.
The lockout has also brought a couple of Jaffray's former foes into the IceCaps' fold.
"(Dean Arsene) is a guy I played with in junior, that I have a lot of respect for," Jaffray said. "It's definitely good to have a guy like him on our side. A guy like Brian Sutherby, I hated playing against all through junior, but he's one of those guys you hate playing against but love to have on your side."
The IceCaps have also added Derick Whitmore, who scored 28 goals with Rochester last season and should help a St. John's team that largely scored by committee.
"Every team can always use a bit more offence," Jaffray said. "We had a great team last year, but we never had a leading scorer all year. The additions we made this year are great."
The IceCaps aren't going to take any team by surprise this season, and the team prepared with a competitive, fierce training camp. Klingberg, a hard forechecking and fast skating forward, says it will make for a more competitive team.
"Lots of people out there and everyone is competing," he said. "It's going to be hard to make the lineup, but I try to not think so much and just do what I'm supposed to do," he said.