SUMMERSIDE — The drive to the RBC Cup officially begins tonight.
That’s when the Summerside Western Capitals will open the 2012-13 MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) regular season against the Pictou County Weeks Crushers at Eastlink Arena. The opening faceoff is set for 7 p.m.
“We’re excited to get going,” said Capitals head coach Billy McGuigan. “We like our team, we like the character, we like the commitment level of the guys so far in training camp. We are real excited to get started to see what we actually have.”
With the Capitals guaranteed a berth in the Canadian junior A hockey championship tournament in May as the host team, general manager Pat McIver admitted he expects to make some improvements as the year progresses.
“We have improved our back end a great deal over last year,” said McIver. “We are bigger, stronger, we’re more experienced. We are a lot deeper team this year.
“We still have a lot of work to do, there’s no question. I like our hockey club right now. It has a good mix of veterans and youth, and some good size and skill.”
What kind of a team can fans expect to see?
“I would think we are going to see a real hard-working and gritty team,” answered McGuigan. “We also have some skill there as well.
“We are going to be a puck-moving team, a possession team that is going to control the play a lot. We will chip in with goals, but you are going to see a hard-working team here.”
Landon Noel, who appeared in 44 games with the Caps last year, and Jacob Riley will start the year as the goaltending tandem.
“As training camp went on Landon proved he was the No. 1 goalie,” said McGuigan. “Noel is going to get the nod in Game 1.”
Spencer MacDonald, who played with the Caps from 2008 to 2011, is back for his final year of junior A eligibility.
Matt Kelly of Summerside and Harrison Wood are returning from last year’s team, while newcomers on the blue-line are Wes Herrett, Dale Deon, Patrick Volpe and Tanner McCabe, who just turned 16 on Sept. 24 and is the son of former junior player Todd McCabe.
“He’s a big, rugged kid and stands about 6’2” and about 220 pounds,” said McGuigan. “We’re excited to see how he progresses over the next couple of weeks.”
MacDonald (Saint John), Herrett (P.E.I. Rocket), Volpe (Shawinigan) and Deon (Rimouski) all played in the QMJHL last year.
“Our D (defence) is going to be a puck-moving D,” said McGuigan. “We are going to be getting the puck up the ice real quick. We have good defensive D as well as some offensive guys.”
The Capitals will start the season with 15 forwards, but four of those – recently-named captain Scott Trask, Alex Gallant, Justin Thomas and Craig MacLaughlan — will miss the opener with injuries.
“Probably the biggest surprise overall at training camp, and a player who has improved tremendously, is (sophomore) Colton Parsons,” said McGuigan. “We think, overall, with all the players that are here, he’s been our best player and most consistent.”
One player McGuigan is expecting big things from offensively is Alex Cote, who played last season in the QMJHL with Halifax and had 99 points in the Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League two years ago.
“With the numbers he put in the past at the junior A level, we think he’s going to put up big numbers,” said McGuigan. “He (Cote) started off against Woodstock (in the first exhibition game) with three goals and a shootout goal.
“We hope he’s going to be a guy who can produce that offence. He’s surrounded by some good-skilled guys as well as character guys. He has an opportunity to not only score some goals, but make some plays.”
(Player Hometown Last year’s team)
G. Jacob Riley London, Ont. Kingston Frontenacs
G. Landon Noel Sudbury, Ont. Western Capitals
D. Wes Herrett Springhill, N.S. P.E.I. Rocket
D. Dale Deon Georgetown, Ont. Rimouski Oceanic
D. Patrick Volpe Burlington, Ont. Shawinigan Cataractes
D. Matt Kelly Summerside Western Capitals
D. Spencer MacDonald Stratford, P.E.I. Saint John Sea Dogs
D. Tanner McCabe Charlottetown, Charlottetown Islanders
D. Harrison Wood Charlottetown Western Capitals
F. Jordan Buchanan Summerside Cornwall Thunder
F. Thomas Stavert Kensington Notre Dame Argos
F. Alex Cote Montreal, Que. Halifax Mooseheads
F. Colton Parsons Kingston, N.S. Western Capitals
F. Blaize Bridges Summerside Western Capitals
F. Chris Caissy Campbellton, N.B. Campbellton Tigers
F. Craig MacLaughlan Charlottetown Western Capitals
F. Alex Gallant Summerside P.E.I. Rocket
F. Tyler Doyle Summerside Charlottetown Islanders
F. Brandon Carter Summerside Western Capitals
F. Mitch Maynard Halifax, N.S. Shawinigan Cataractes
F. Justin Thomas Melbourne, Ont. Strathroy Rockets
F. Jon Aubertin, Hearst, Ont. Western Capitals
F. Spencer Montgomery Kensington Kensington Vipers
F. Scott Trask Bonavista, N.L. Moncton Wildcats