CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Junior hockey teams often talk about playing playoff hockey in late March, but the Charlottetown Islanders have sort of been doing it since the regular season began.
“We haven’t had much choice,” Islanders head coach Jim Hulton said Wednesday. “We’re not naturally gifted offensively. We can’t afford to play loosey-goose hockey. If we get off the tracks at all, the results are not going to be there.”
It doesn’t mean the Islanders can’t be a good team, but they have to adhere to a disciplined structure to be successful.
Through 25 games of the 68-game Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season, the Islanders are 15-9-1-0 after starting the year 1-6-1-0.
To put into perspective the team’s run, the team was 15-10-1-0 on Nov. 30, 2016.
Hulton credits the players buying into the game plan since the beginning of the season.
“We’re comfortable in low-scoring, tight-checking games,” he said.
The team is in for another test this weekend, starting tonight.
They begin a three-night road trip in Quebec against the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (17-5-2-0) in a rematch of last year’s league semifinal. Game time is 8:30 p.m. Atlantic.
The trip continues Saturday against the Quebec Remparts (18-9-2-0) and Sunday against the Shawinigan Cataractes (8-19-1-0). Both games are set for 5 p.m. Atlantic starts.
The Armada and Remparts have two of the three best records in the league.
Hulton said the weekend provides a couple of opportunities for his squad.
“It’s an internal measuring stick,” he said. “And secondly, and probably the most fun part, is to send a message to the league that we’re for real. I still don't think we get the respect our kids have maybe earned, and this is a good way to do it.”
The Islanders will be playing its second straight game without captain Pierre-Olivier (P.O.) Joseph, who is serving a three-game suspension. Forward Nikita Alexandrov is questionable with a bruised ankle while defenceman Taylor Egan is out 10 to 14 days with a shoulder injury sustained early in Tuesday’s game with Acadie-Bathurst.
The Islanders picked up Dominic Hachey in Edmundston, N.B., of the Maritime Junior Hockey League during their way to Quebec. It also has some of its Quebec-drafted players on standby, including defenceman Antoine Leblanc and forward Zachary Beauregard.
The team has dealt with players being in and out of the lineup for most of the season. It appears they are more concerned with who is wearing the sweater than who is not.
“We’ve talked all along about staying in the moment and getting better everyday,” Hulton said. “Easy to preach but not always easy to practise, but this group has really done that.”