SUMMERSIDE – It’s a test the Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals are looking forward to.
The Capitals will host the Edmundston Blizzard, the No. 19th-ranked team in this week’s Canadian Junior Hockey League rankings, at Eastlink Arena on Thursday. Puck drop for the MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) contest is 7 p.m.
“It’s definitely a gauge in how we compare to the best teams in the league,” said Capitals head coach Billy McGuigan. “We beat (Eastlink South Division-leading) Yarmouth (Jan. 14) in a game I thought we were good in parts of it, and not so good in other parts.
“To have a nationally-ranked team like Edmundston coming in, and it’s a TV game on Eastlink, it’s a big part of our playoff push to try and continue with momentum and gain points.”
The Blizzard sits atop the MHL standings with 55 points on the strength of a 26-7-3-0 (won-lost-overtime losses-shootout losses) record. The Caps are in second place behind the Blizzard in the Eastlink North Division at 21-13-1-0, good enough for 43 points.
“I feel they are the best team in the league,” said McGuigan. “They are coming in playing a young team, with the majority Island players.”
The Caps will be missing second-year forward Kallum Muirhead, who will begin serving a five-game suspension. Muirhead received three games for a gross misconduct penalty assessed at the end of Friday’s 5-4 loss to the Truro Bearcats. Muirhead, who recorded nine points in the Caps’ last six games, was also handed a two-game suspension for boarding on a video appeal after there was no penalty called on the play in Friday’s game.
“It’s a big loss,” McGuigan said of Muirhead’s suspension.
Head to head
The Blizzard has won the first four head-to-head meetings against the Caps this year, but three of those were played in October.
“I think we are a lot better hockey team right now,” said McGuigan. “I feel our structure and system play has improved immensely, and we are competitive with any team in the league.
“From our standpoint, it is the best team in our division coming in, and we want to be prepared and ready.”
Dominik Tmej, who has a 2.04 goals-against average and .940 save percentage, will be back between the pipes for the Caps after Alex Bishop played against the Bearcats.
Although the Caps have allowed 40 or more shots in their last three games while being outshot 126-78 overall during this stretch, McGuigan is not about to press any panic button. He did add, though, the Caps are looking to limit the Blizzard’s chances and high quality shots.
“I don’t think the last couple of games were our best games of the season, but we were still in them and competitive in them,” said McGuigan. “To be honest with you, most of the games this season we have outshot the other team.
“It’s one of those situations where you would not like to give up as many shots. We want to play to the middle of the ice, keep them to the outside and not give up quality.”