SUMMERSIDE – The importance of Thursday night’s game for the Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals is not lost on veteran defenceman Jesse Annear.
The Capitals, coming off a 4-3 loss to the Amherst Ramblers on New Year’s Day, will look to get back on the winning track at home against the St. Stephen Aces. Game time at Eastlink Arena is 7 p.m.
“We really have to get our compete level up,” said Annear. “The last game our compete level wasn’t that great, and it cost us a win.
“If we can compete for 60 minutes, it will be big for us.”
Thus, the Caps are looking to get right back on the winning track to avoid a potential slide.
“It’s a pretty big game for us to get back on the right page,” said Annear.
An important two points are available as well. The Caps are 16-12-1-0 (won-lost-overtime losses-shootout losses), and sit in second place in the Eastlink North Division of the MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League). Summerside is one point ahead of the Campbellton Tigers (15-12-2-0) and Miramichi Timberwolves (14-10-2-2) in the race for home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
“It would be good to finish the year in second place,” acknowledged Annear, 19. “If we play the way we can and play good at home, we will have a good crack at it.”
Annear is quietly enjoying a strong season as the Montague native and rookie blue-liner Jordan Spence of Cornwall are tied for third in team scoring with 27 points. Annear has five goals and 22 assists while Spence has scored six times and contributed 21 helpers.
“I’m pretty happy with my season so far, and feel a little bit more comfortable,” assessed Annear. “I’m definitely a lot more confident when it comes to jumping up in the rush offensively. I feel I have extra time with the puck, and that’s because of the extra confidence.”
Like Spence, Annear broke in with the Caps as a midget-aged player.
“We work together on the power play, so we talk a lot there, and are trying to get a good chemistry going between us,” said Annear, who added he enjoys providing any assistance he can to the team’s young players. “We both learn from each other.”
Thursday marks the third of a five-game homestand for the Caps, who are also in the midst of playing six of seven at Eastlink Arena. After logging a lot of hours on the bus and featuring short-staffed lineups most nights before Christmas, the players welcome the stretch of home games, noted Annear.
“It’s definitely nice, especially after we had a hard couple of months having only four (regular) D and not a lot of forwards,” continued Annear. “It was good for the guys to get a rest over Christmas, and now we don’t have to worry about travelling a whole lot.
“I think that will definitely play to our advantage coming down the final stretch.”
Western Capitals game notes:
Thursday’s game will be only the third meeting of the regular season between the two teams. The Caps won the previous two – 3-2 in St. Stephen on Sept. 29 and 7-0 in Summerside on Nov. 30.
Caps forward Austin Taylor will begin serving a four-game suspension on Thursday. Taylor was assessed a checking-from-behind major penalty against Amherst on Monday.
The Caps are 9-4-0 on home ice.
The Caps are the least penalized team in the MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) with 365 penalty minutes.
The Caps have the league’s third-best power play – 21.6 per cent. Summerside is eighth overall in penalty killing at 80.8 per cent.