Whether it be hockey, baseball, softball or whatever, there always seems to be a little extra at stake when these cities meet in any form of sport. The rivalry has been somewhat dormant in hockey since the Charlottetown Abbies folded after the 2008 MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) season.
No one misses the Abbies more than the Summerside Western Capitals. The Caps-Abbies’ rivalry was the greatest hockey one in my time on this Island, and the rivalries of today do not come close to what these two teams offered over the years.
As a Caps’ fan, you were excited when the Abbies came to town, and couldn't wait until the game got going. There were always bigger crowds when these two met – not only in Summerside, but Charlottetown as well.
As much as the rivalry meant to the fans, it meant even more to the players. I recall late one Sunday morning I spotted Montrose native and former Abbies forward Colby Pridham in the alley outside the visitor’s dressing room at Cahill Stadium, over two hours before the scheduled 2 p.m. start time. I struck up a conversation with the classy Pridham, and asked him why he was at the rink so early.
Pridham, who went on to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Halifax Mooseheads and then won two national university titles in his five-year career with Saint Mary’s and UNB, expressed to me that he was so excited to be there with the big rivalry, and playing at Cahill Stadium in front of a big and boisterous crowd. He could not wait to get the game going, and that there was nothing like playing the Caps in Cahill Stadium. Pridham was certainly pumped up for the game, much the same as the fans were back then.
To some extent since, the Caps have developed rivalries with both Miramichi and Woodstock, but that Caps/Abbies’ rivalry was in a class by itself.
Who will ever forget that magical run by the Caps to winning the 1997 Royal Bank Cup? Many say that that the Abbies toughened the Caps up for that run in that memorable seven-game Roger Meek Division final that year.
A good source tells me that there were over 3,000 fans at Cahill Stadium for Game 7, with hundreds turned away. That was at least 1,000 fans over capacity that night, but that did not seem to matter.
Having Forbie Kennedy coaching the Abbies and Gerard (Turk) Gallant coaching the Caps only added to the excitement. Gallant would probably be the first to say what coaching against Kennedy meant for his coaching career, and what that tough seven-game series meant to the Caps on their way to winning the national championship.
As much as the Caps miss the rivalry, I think Charlottetown also misses the rivalry with Summerside. It goes without saying, that the Caps have a big and loyal fan base, and many used to follow the Caps on the road, especially to Charlottetown.
One of the things that the P.E.I. Rocket overlooked back a few years ago when they helped block a move of major junior hockey to Summerside was the Summerside-Charlottetown rivalry.
Now we have the eastern end of P.E.I. watching major junior and the eastern end watching junior A. As a result, that great Summerside-Charlottetown rivalry is dead for now, and it is certainly missed.
It does not matter whether it is major junior or junior A, both Charlottetown and Summerside playing in the same league is good for both cities, and no doubt the fans as well.
Vipers vs. Red Wings
Moving from a pair of former great rivals to probably the best rivalry in Island hockey today, the Kensington Moase Plumbing and Heating Vipers and the Arsenault’s Fish Mart Western Red Wings were scheduled to open the best-of-seven Island Junior Hockey League final series in Kensington on Friday night.
Game 2 is scheduled for the Evangeline Recreation Centre on Sunday at 7 p.m.
This should be a great series and fan interest will be at an all-time high. The Vipers swept the Wings in four games in last year's final, but the Wings have made great strides in closing the gap between these two teams this season.
The Red Wings certainly will have their hands full with the Vipers, who have become accustomed to winning championships. The Vipers have won three league titles in a row, seven of the last 10 and have lost in the final in the other three. That, in itself, is an incredible feat considering the turnover of players at the junior level.
At any rate, this should be a great series that will generate plenty of interest.
Last week I talked about what a great season that Josh Currie had with the P.E.I. Rocket with his 49-goal and 104-point season. I said that I could not remember an Island-born player having that much success in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
I was quickly reminded that Murray Harbour's Brad Richards also had quite a career in the QMJHL, and one that probably will not be repeated for some time – if ever.
In three years with the Rimouski Oceanic, Richards had 33-, 39- and 71-goal seasons. He had point totals of 115, 131 and 186 in those three years, and led the Oceanic to a league championship and a Memorial Cup title in the 1999-2000 season. He was Memorial Cup most valuable player, and led the entire Canadian Hockey League in plus/minus that season.
When you look back on the junior career of Richards, there is little doubt that his numbers put him in a class all by himself.
Looking ahead to the MHL playoffs, an Amherst-Summerside Kent Cup final would be great for fans.
Although there is a lot of hockey still to be played before we get to that point, with a little over an hour-long drive between Amherst and Summerside, that would be great for fan interest. Also, having Jim Bottomley behind the Amherst bench would only add to the excitement.
Ironically, Bottomley was head coach of the 1996-97 Dartmouth Oland Exports, the team the Caps beat in a seven-game league championship series.
It may be wishful thinking, but these two teams in the league final would make for a great series, and may even come close to those great Caps-Abbies’ matchups of years past.
Have a great week!
Joe MacIntyre is a Summerside resident. His column appears every Saturday. Comments and suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.