CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – The Charlottetown Islanders are coming off back-to-back appearances in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League semifinal, so what can they do for an encore?
“Try to push it even further,” head coach and general manager Jim Hulton said before Wednesday’s practice. “It’s great we went to the final four, but there’s an emptiness when you don't get to the final. It’s still our mandate to bring a championship to the Island and we’re going to continue with that.”
The team lost seven guys from last year’s roster, while captain Pierre-Olivier Joseph and overager Hunter Drew, both defencemen, remain in NHL camps. It has brought in some veterans and youth to fill the roles and hopefully take the squad to its first President Cup final.
The Islanders started last year 1-6-1-0, but got hot following Pascal Aquin’s return from suspension and the additions of Sullivan Sparkes and Olivier Desjardins. They got better with the additions of Derek Gentile, Daniel Hardie, Brett Budgell and Cam Askew as 2017 turned into 2018.
The team was written off by most at the beginning of the year and it became a rallying point inside the dressing room. It won’t be the same this time around as the team is expected to be among the league leaders.
“We can’t disappoint teams,” Hulton said. “Last year, we surprised teams. This time, we’re going to go into rinks with an expectation, so our job is to give them what they expect. They’re going to expect a hard-working, tenacious, gritty team, so don't disappoint them.”
Gentile said the squad has high expectations of itself and is willing to work to accomplish the goals.
“We’re a very capable hockey team,” he said.
The team is nearing the beginning of its regular season with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles visiting the Eastlink Centre on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. game.
Hardie remembers the lift the fans gave the team during last year’s magical run.
“Hopefully the building is rocking (Friday),” he said. “We’ll do our best on the ice to give them what they want.”
One of the new guys joining this year’s roster is Lukas Cormier – the fourth overall pick from this year’s draft.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time now,” he said of his first major junior game.
Cormier noted he is lucky to have a lot of veterans to lean on as he finds his way at the next level. He is looking forward to finding a good role and contributing to the team’s success.
The team came together in mid-August for training camp and now can see light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s nice. You train so hard all summer and all through camp,” Gentile said. “When you finally get in the week of, you get excited, you get the jitters. It’s just like you’re five, six years old waiting for Saturday (morning hockey).”
The 19-year-old Sydney, N.S., native said everyone is back in their routines and the rookies are learning from the vets, which now includes Gentile.
“It’s hard to believe that I’m getting there soon,” said the veteran of three major junior seasons, “but I’m still as excited as a young buck.”
A look at the Charlottetown Islanders/P.E.I. Rocket regular season point totals since arriving in Charlottetown.
2016-17 96 *Second most points in the league
Note: From 2003-04 to 2007-08 teams played 70 regular season games. Since 2008-09, it’s been a 68-game regular season.
2018 playoffs – The Islanders are coming off a ninth-place regular season with a 37-24-7-0 record after starting the year 1-6-1-0. They defeated the Quebec Remparts in Game 7 of the opening round, swept Halifax in the quarter-final and lost in seven games to the top-ranked Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the semifinal.
Losses – D Olivier Desjardins, D Saku Vesterinen, D Taylor Egan, D Noah Massie, F Pascal Aquin, F Cam Askew and F Nathaniel Doyon.
Additions – D Lukas Cormier, D Alexander Dersch, D Colin Van Den Hurk, D Greg Kehoe, D Zachary Arsenault, F Kevin Gursoy, F Zachary Beauregard, F Xavier Fortin and F Cole Edwards.