By Dan Hickling
Orono, Maine, isn't the end of the world. But it may seem that way to someone hailing from sunny Southern California.
But even though rugged defenseman Travis Ramsey spent four seasons in chilly northern Maine as a rock on the Black Bears’ blue line, he hadn't seen anything yet.
Nothing quite like Newfoundland, anyway.
“I thought when I came to Maine,” he said, “that I was the farthest east from my home. But I was totally wrong. There's another hour-and-a-half time change further east.”
He was referring, of course, to St. John's, which after a six-year absence is back in the AHL, this time as the IceCaps, the farm club of the new Winnipeg Jets.
“St. John's is a good hockey community,” said Ramsey, who hails from Lakewood, Calif., some 4,430 miles to the west. “They've really embraced us. Every game is a sellout. It's exciting to be in that town and play for a team that appreciates you so much.”
What really sits well with the hockey savvy folks of St. John's
is someone like Ramsey, who excels at the finer points of the
The pointers he picked up at Maine while playing with future pros such as Mike Lundin and Matt Duffy helped set him up for his own professional sojourn, which for the previous three years were spent with the now-defunct Manitoba Moose.
“I wasn't ready out of junior at all,” said Ramsey,
who was never drafted. “But (now I was) playing with elite
players, especially Lundin, watching him for three years. He was
the steady defenseman I always wanted to be. Obviously, I don't
have the offensive skills in my game. But I learned to make that
good first pass and learning how to play good 'D'. In Orono, it
helped me to learn and grow as a player.”
The nurturing process is continuing under Caps head coach Keith McCambridge, who as a Moose assistant coach the past two years had Ramsey under his charge.
“He's a real character player,” said McCambridge. “He wears his heart on his sleeve. He's relentless. Every night he brings the same work ethic, and drives the back end with how he shows up every night.”
Those are traits that McCambridge himself showed as a tough but fair, punishing blueliner during his pro career, which included a three-year stay with the Providence Bruins.
“I've seen him on tape,” said Ramsey. “He was a lot tougher than I was. Another level of toughness. But I heard he was a steady guy. He's a great leader as a coach, and you can tell he must have been one on the ice. So that's a great compliment. I look up to him a lot.”
Around the AHL
The Christmas break provides players throughout the AHL with a chance to head home for the holidays. For some, like Springfield's Ryan Garlock, the trip can be a little tricky. In fact, Garlock's hometown of Iroquois Falls, Ont. (pop. 4,729) is so remote that he hasn't managed to make it back in more than six years. For Garlock, getting to the paper making community near the Quebec border involved a five-hour drive from Springfield to Montreal, followed by a prop flight to Rouyn-Noranda, P.Q. From there, the car ride to the Falls takes a couple more hours. That is, if the weather is good. “It's quite the process,” said Garlock. “But I'm excited about it.” No kidding. … The three-game conditioning stint in Worcester by San Jose goaltender Antero Niittymaki ended in rough fashion. The veteran Finn, who is working his way back from hip surgery performed in September, allowed all six goals in a 6-3 loss to Springfield. The first five came on just 15 shots. When last seen in the AHL, Niittymaki was hoisting the Calder Cup with the 2005 Philadelphia Phantoms, and picking up the Jack Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP.
Dan Hickling can be reached at email@example.com.