SUMMERSIDE – The Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals will meet an unfamiliar opponent on Thursday.
The Valley Wildcats will visit the Prince County city for the first meeting of the 2017-18 regular season between the two MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) teams. Puck drop at Eastlink Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“We don’t know a lot about them,” admitted Caps head coach Billy McGuigan in an interview following Tuesday afternoon’s practice. “We know they had a real rough start to the season, and have really picked it up the last number of games. They are one of the hotter teams in the league right now.”
Although the Berwick, N.S.-based Wildcats sit last in the Eastlink South Division at 6-11-0-1 (won-lost-overtime losses-shootout losses), they have won three of their last four games.
“It’s going to be a big test for us,” acknowledged McGuigan.
The Caps (7-9-1-0) are tied with the St. Stephen Aces (7-13-0-1) for fourth place in the Eastlink North Division, but Summerside has played four fewer games.
It’s the start of an important week for the Caps, who also host the Woodstock Slammers (5-10-3-1) on Saturday at 7 p.m., and close out a four-game homestand against the Aces on Nov. 30 in two key divisional matchups.
“It’s a huge week for us,” emphasized McGuigan. “These two points are massive for us against Valley. It’s the opposite division, but it’s games-in-hand we have right now, and we need to win those games.”
The Caps will look to have a better start against the Wildcats after falling behind the Pictou County Crushers 2-0 before the game was two minutes old on Saturday night. The Caps never recovered, and dropped a 4-3 decision.
“We weren’t great for the first 20 minutes, and that put us behind the 8-ball and we never got back in the game,” said McGuigan. “We outshot them 40-24, but at the end of the day the result was the first 20 minutes cost us.”
McGuigan agreed with the assessment that it was a tough but good lesson for the team to learn.
“We have a lot of character in this room, I really like the kids and we are the youngest team in the league,” said McGuigan. “We work hard every single day, and you even see in practice our work ethic is through the roof.
“But we have to start winning those hockey games, and not falling behind. We cannot come out flat, and we need to play with lots of poise, work ethic, character and speed. If we play with those things we will be successful.”
Western Capitals’ game notes:
The Caps are 3-3 (won-lost) on home ice in regular-season play.
The Valley Wildcats are 3-6 on the road, but are coming off a 6-5 come-from-behind shootout win in Amherst on Saturday. The Wildcats trailed 5-1 at one point.
Recently-acquired goaltender Dominik Tmej will make his first start for the Capitals on Thursday. Tmej stopped 13 of 14 shots in relief of Brayden Lachance against Pictou County on Saturday.
Caps forward TJ Shea earned two assists in Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Pictou County to extend his point streak to 11 games. Shea has recorded 26 points during this stretch.
Shea leads the MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) scoring race with 32 points in 17 games. Shea, who has 12 goals and 20 assists, is one point ahead of the South Shore Lumberjacks’ Logan O’Neil (18-13-31).
Makail Parker, who has 12 goals and nine assists for 21 points in 18 games, is the Wildcats’ top point-getter.
Former NHLer Mike Danton recently joined the Wildcats as an assistant coach.