On the final day of the summer of 2018, hockey is back for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
The QMJHL season began last night with a 3-1 victory for the Moncton Wildcats in Bathurst over the defending Memorial Cup champion Titan. For 14 other QMJHL teams, the season begins tonight. And for the first time in the 22 year history of the Eagles, the club will open its season in Charlottetown against the Islanders.
Both the Screaming Eagles and Islanders have strong reason for optimism heading into the 2018-19 season. Cape Breton brings back 15 players from last season’s team, not including the acquisition of three key veteran players: 42 goal scorer and Sydney native Mitchell Balmas, another overager in ex-Rimouski defenseman Wilson Forest, and former QMJHL first round draft pick Antoine Crête-Belzile (in his 19 year old season). The Screaming Eagles were listed as an honourable mention in the pre-season CHL top 10.
It will be a significant night for Cape Breton’s other overager, Declan Smith, will play his first game at team captain. Smith is the longest serving Cape Breton player, beginning his fourth full season with the club. Balmas and 19 year old forward Gabriel Proulx will serve as alternate captains for the Screaming Eagles.
Only one member of the Screaming Eagles roster has never appeared in a QMJHL game: forward Alex Drover, the tenth overall pick in the 2018 draft. The other three rookies on this Eagle squad, who appeared in games as affiliate players last season, are 17 year olds Liam Kidney & Félix Lafrance (forwards) and William Grimard (goaltender).
Six Screaming Eagle players will take to the ice having attended NHL training camps this year. German defenseman Leon Gawanke attended his second Winnipeg Jets training camp after being drafted in 2017, while forward Mathias Laferrière was chosen by St. Louis this past June and netminder Kevin Mandolese was tabbed by Ottawa. Earning free agent invitations to rookie camps were Balmas (Philadelphia), defenseman Adam McCormick (Dallas), and forward Egor Sokolov (Columbus), who also cracked the main Blue Jackets camp.
In Charlottetown, the Islanders are optimistic as they look to return 14 players from last year’s club that made a stunning run to game 7 of the third round of the QMJHL playoffs. Two defensemen in that group will be missing on Friday, however, as NHL first round draft pick Pierre-Olivier Joseph and overage blueliner Hunter Drew are still at pro training camps.
A pair of Nova Scotians are expected to help lead the Islanders offense this season, as overager Keith Getson lead the Islanders in points in the regular season a year ago, and scored ten goals in the playoffs. Sydney native Derek Gentile, now in his 19 year old season, posted 16 points in the playoffs for the Islanders after being acquired mid-season from Québec.
The fourth overall pick in the 2018 QMJHL draft, Islanders defenseman Lukas Cormier, will make his QMJHL debut this evening. A pair of 18 year olds will also make their first QMJHL showings on the Charlottetown side- import blueliner Alexander Dersch and Ontarian forward Cole Edwards, the latter whom decommitted from the NCAA’s Colorado College to play for Charlottetown.
Tonight’s game is the first of nine meetings between the Screaming Eagles & Islanders in 2018-19. Last season the Eagles won five of nine outings, with each team requiring extra time on one occasion for a victory.
Game time tonight is 7 PM, and you can catch all the action on 1270 CJCB AM, or online at www.cjcbradio.com