SUMMERSIDE – Every sports team that has success experiences that one particular turning point of a season.
For the Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals, that was a trip to Edmundston, N.B., in late October. The short-staffed Caps gave everything they had in 3-2 and 6-5 losses, but that experience helped paved the way for a third-place overall finish in the 12-team MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League).
“We went up there with eight forwards and three D, and had two (Kensington Monaghan Farms) Wild players and three affiliates in total,” said Caps head coach Billy McGuigan. “We gave two valiant efforts against Edmundston, which was the cream of the crop at that time. . . That was a point in our season where things really turned around.
“We took those losses and turned them into a positive, and learned lessons from it. It also showed guys in our room, that even with a short bench and a limited number of players, that we can compete with any team in the league.
“That was the weekend the players began believing in themselves. I saw something special in them after that weekend, just in the guts, determination they showed. Going forward from there, those two losses were the biggest wins we had of the season.”
The Caps, who finished the regular season winning 27 of their final 33 games, would go on to finish second in the Eastlink North Division at 33-16-1-0 (won-lost-overtime losses-shootout losses). Edmundston was first in the division and first overall at 36-10-4-0, nine points ahead of the Caps. However, backed by strong goaltending from Dominik Tmej, the Caps registered well-deserved 4-0 and 5-1 victories over Edmundston in Summerside on Jan. 25 and Feb. 8. Tmej, who led the MHL in shutouts (6), goals-against average (2.06) and save percentage (.941), turned aside 84 of 85 shots in those two games.
The Caps will open the Kent Cup playoffs on home ice Thursday. The Campbellton Tigers (24-22-2-2) will visit Eastlink Arena for Game 1 of the best-of-seven Eastlink North Division semifinal series at 7 p.m.
“It’s going to be a good series,” said McGuigan. “Both teams have pros and cons of playing each other, but we’ll be ready to go when the puck drops Thursday night. Our players are looking forward to the playoffs.”