Lukas Cormier is getting really close to returning to the Charlottetown Islanders’ lineup.
The 17-year-old blue-liner has been practising all week with the squad after being cleared to return to skating a week ago. Cormier will take the morning skate Friday in Baie-Comeau, Que., and, if there are no setbacks, he will play Friday night against the Drakkar.
The dynamic defenceman has been sidelined since blocking a shot with his foot on Oct. 19 against the Saint John Sea Dogs. It was the longest stretch of time he’s missed during his hockey career.
“It was harder than I thought it would be, but I passed through it, and I just can’t wait to play again,” he said Thursday morning from Bathurst, N.B. “I just can’t wait to play. If I get the go (ahead) to play Friday, I will be extremely excited.”
The Sainte-Marie-de-Kent, N.B., native has four goals and 11 assists for 15 points in 13 games during his sophomore season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He is fifth in Islanders scoring despite playing half of the team’s games.
“Watching him in practice this week, he’s a difference maker,” head coach Jim Hulton said.
The Islanders were 9-1-3-1 after winning on Oct. 19. The team has gone 7-9-1-0 since Cormier was injured. The Islanders also lost No. 1 centre Nikita Alexandrov during that stretch.
The return of Cormier has boosted the club, knowing they had gotten through a tough period playing some tough teams without key players.
“You could just feel this jolt of energy,” Hulton said. “It was a real positive feeling around the rink this week.”
Cormier has played internationally for Canada at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and the Hlinka Gretzky Cup under-18 competition. He was not one of the 31 players invited to try out for the team that will wear the Maple Leaf at the world junior championship later this month, but he wasn’t disappointed.
“I wasn't expecting the invite with missing the last six weeks of play, and I am still pretty young for that team,” he said.
His goal is just to get back on the ice and help the Islanders win games.
Charlottetown has 21 players on the Quebec road trip.
Cedric Desruisseaux progressed well this week after sustaining a shoulder injury on Nov. 24. An X-ray showed no separation, and the 19-year-old winger said he was ready to play.
“As long as he gets through tomorrow morning’s skate, he’s going to play tomorrow,” Hulton said.
The Islanders are without imports Alexandrov and Gaetan Jobin, who have gone to Russia and Switzerland, respectively, for their country’s world junior camps.
Forward Brett Budgell was slashed on the hand Sunday and didn’t skate this week. He will be a game day decision.
The Islanders play three games in three days starting Friday at 8:30 p.m. Atlantic in Baie-Comeau. They are in Chicoutimi Saturday and Victoriaville Sunday. Both games are 5 p.m. starts.
Hulton said the team has learned the importance of winning the first game of a Quebec road trip.
“If you drop the ball in the first one, it’s a big hole to climb out of,” he said. “We have to be prepared for that first 10 minutes. It’s a rink that can overwhelm you early on, especially for our younger players.
“It’s one of the loudest buildings in the league.”
Hulton did not make the trip with the team. He is scouting some teams in advance of the league’s trade window opening on Dec. 15 and has a funeral to attend.
Associate coach Guy Girouard and assistant coach Kevin Henderson will be on the bench this weekend.