Jacks' hot line is answering call for some goals

October 17, 1991|By Nestor Aparicio | Nestor Aparicio,Evening Sun Staff

For many teams in the American Hockey League, winning means being able to answer one question successfully: "Do you have a line that can score when you need it?"

The teams that bring home Calder Cups always seem to have three forwards -- the No. 1 line -- to lead the way.

They log the most ice time. They are the first team off the bench on the power play. They get the big goal when it's necessary.

Skipjacks coach Robbie Laird sincerely believes he has one of those lines this year, and through the first four games, they've yet to disappoint.

But for all of their success as a line -- eight goals and 20 points among them -- Jacks forwards John Purves, Craig Duncanson and Simon Wheeldon say the best is yet to come, heading into tomorrow night's first of two meetings this weekend with the Maine Mariners.

"We haven't come near playing our best yet," said Duncanson, who along with Wheeldon and Brent Hughes was acquired in an offseason trade with Winnipeg. "We've been fortunate, especially on the power play, and we've gotten a few breaks. But as for a unit meshing together, we've got a ways to go."

Purves, who scored a pair of goals in both games last weekend, concurred.

"We haven't even started to click," he said. "We've just started to play together, really. Sure, we're giving a good effort and getting some goals, but we've had some breakdowns defensively and I know we can make smarter plays."

So far, in marching to a 3-1 record, the Jacks have been 8-for-34 with the extra attacker.

The top trio has accounted for five of those goals, with Purves leading the way with three.

The only other lines in the AHL that have been better are Adirondack's Sheldon Kennedy, Mike Sillinger and Lonnie Loach (23 points in four games) and Fredericton's Gilbert Dion, Patrick Lebeau and Jesse Belanger (30 points in six games).

Laird hardly takes credit for putting his high-scoring line together.

"I think the key to the line is Purves," Laird said. "I wanted to get him on a line where he had two playmakers getting him the puck. He is the closest thing we have to a natural goal scorer. He shoots the puck with accuracy and has a quick release. He has soft hands and he gets the puck off in a hurry with a hard shot.

"There is no question about it -- John Purves is going to score a lot of goals for us," Laird said.

It also doesn't hurt that Wheeldon and Duncanson had played together in Moncton last season and Purves and Duncanson were old friends from Canadian Junior hockey. That relationship triangle has made for an easy transition.

"They've all got pretty good hockey sense," Laird said. "They have the ability to read the opposition, especially on the power play, and they can execute the set plays we go over in practice."

And as Purves will tell you, leadership is necessary to win at the minor-league level.

"We are the veterans here," said Purves, who at 23 is entering his third year as a Skipjack. "No one had to tell us to think and act like leaders. The team looks to us because we've been here a while and we took the onus of leadership upon ourselves. We want to win."

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