UPEI looking to secure home-ice advantage in final two weeks of AUS men’s hockey regular season
The UPEI Panthers have clinched a berth in the post-season dance and are now trying to nail down the venue.
The Panthers can take a step in that direction tonight when they travel to Moncton to play the Aigles Bleus at 7 p.m. in Atlantic University Sport men’s hockey.
UPEI (12-11-3) is three points back of Moncton (13-10-4), with a game in hand, for fourth place in the seven-team conference where all six playoff spots have been spoken for. With the conference’s top two squads earning first-round byes, the third- and fourth-ranked teams host the opening games of the playoffs.
“Tomorrow is a must-win if we want to have home ice for the first round,” Panthers head coach Forbes MacPherson said Thursday.
“It’s a big game for us,” he added. “It’s also a good test drive for us because in two weeks’ time we’ll be faced with another must win.”
While the victory is important, the Panthers also are looking to finetune their game to ensure it is playing the right way heading to the playoffs. The squad has played really well for most of the season, but there have been moments when it needed to make adjustments.
The Aigles Bleus is a team with strong goaltending and is good in transition.
“They can get on you, and after you, very quickly,” MacPherson said.
It means the visitors will need to play a strong possession game and reduce the home side’s speed through the neutral zone. The Jean-Louis Lévesque Arena is a smaller ice surface, which creates another wrinkle.
The Panthers have had strong contributions of late from first-year Panther defenceman Owen Headrick and Charlottetown native Kameron Kielly, a forward who is in his sophomore season at UPEI.
The Panthers recruited Headrick aggressively and were excited to have him commit. He is third in the conference among defenceman scoring with 19 points in 24 games.
“His transition has been very smooth,” MacPherson said, noting Headrick continues to rise his level of play.
Kielly is third in league scoring, two points back of UNB’s Chris Clapperton and Saint Mary’s Hunter Garlent.
“He has been putting up numbers in this league since Day 1,” MacPherson said.
The coaching staff continues to work with Kielly to be even more effective in other areas of the game.
The Panthers have recently been without forwards Beau McCue and Nathan Yetman due to injuries. They won’t play this weekend, but the team hopes to have them available for the final week of the regular season. Defenceman Andrew Picco is questionable for this weekend due to injury.
A look at the UPEI Panthers remaining games in the Atlantic University Sport men’s hockey season.
7 p.m. – UPEI at Moncton.
7 p.m. – UPEI at UNB.
Friday, Feb. 8
7 p.m. – Dalhousie at UPEI.
Saturday, Feb. 9
7 p.m. – St. FX at UPEI.