The P.E.I. Rocket will play its 34th game Sunday when they host the Saint John Sea Dogs at 3 p.m.
As the team approached the midway point of the 68-game season, The Guardian sports editor Jason Malloy sat down with Rocket president and governor Serge Savard Jr. earlier this week.
The team has had a good first half, has announced it will change its name to P.E.I. Islanders next fall and is preparing for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s trade period, which runs from Saturday, Dec. 22, to Jan. 8.
Q: How do you feel the first half of the season has gone?
A: “If I look at the whole season, I think the team performed very well.”
Q: Are you surprised at how well the team has played?
A: “I knew we had good goaltending coming in. Surprised? Yes and no. A little surprised, I have to tell you. The team has performed very well. It’s a very tough division.”
Q: What’s been the biggest surprise so far?
A: “Josh Currie. He’s an Island boy who’s stepped up. He’s the best scorer in the league. For me, he was a fifth-round pick. I am very proud for him.”
Q: The trade window opens in about a week. Are you a buyer or seller?
A: “Don’t know. We’re looking at everything to improve the hockey club. . . . One thing I can promise you, the Rocket, after Christmas, won’t be weaker.”
Q: Would you consider moving one of your 20-year-old players?
A: “If my club is better, yes. If it (makes) the Rocket a better hockey club on the ice the next day, for sure.”
Q: The fact you have two No. 1 goalies, would you consider moving one of them?
A: “We’re in the middle of the pack right now and we have some assets, so we’ll look at everything.”
Q: Will you mortgage the future to load up for just one year?
A: “I want my team to compete this year and the year after and the year after.”
Q: Would you trade a couple of assets for a 20-year-old player who you will only have for part of one season?
A: “I cannot answer that question right now. It’s too early in the process for trades. … Am I going to trade a (Alexis) Pépin? No, I won’t.”
Q: Is there much talk within the league?
A: “… This year, there are six or seven buyers, six or seven sellers. It’s a weird year. You don’t have a Saint John that’s going to win everything.”
Q: You are going to be without Tomas Pavelka and Matej Beran (world juniors) as well as Pépin and Nathan Yetman (under-17 tournament) this month and into January. Are there players in the organization that could potentially be called up?
A: “We’re going to call Carl Chenier up probably Dec. 27th or 28th. He’s a third-round pick (2011 draft) from Lac St-Louis who plays in junior A. … We’re going to call him up and give him a good test.”
Q: What about Neil Robinson, who was a fourth-round pick in 2012, has there been any movement with him reporting?
A: “He wants to go NCAA, but my chief scout, Giles Tremblay, made a follow-up with him. He’s a guy that we’re going to try to bring into our system. He’s a very good hockey player. We took a chance on him, we knew his intention was . . . We spoke (Tuesday) with him, he’s very happy where he is, but next year is next year. We’re certainly going to put in a lot of effort to bring him in.”
Q: Another player is Joshua Courtier, a defenceman from the Boston junior Bruins, who was a 10th-round pick in 2012.
A: “I talked to his father . . . two days ago and the kid has intentions to come here. He’s an outstanding hockey player. . . . We took a chance on him, but it’s looking good. We’re working very hard to bring him in (for 2013-14).”
Q: How important was this year’s draft in where you are at right now?
A: “The Savard family doesn’t think short term. . . . We’re not going to sell the farm. We wouldn’t do that. Next year, Trent (Birt) is working so hard to rebrand this team and I want to have a good club on the ice next year too.”
Q: Given how well you have done, are you surprised people still haven’t come out in a big way?
A: “No I am not because it’s our fault. Over the years we gave them a bad product and it takes time to bring people back… I think it’s coming. We have a good product now and I hope fans are coming, but it doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve been bad for five years. I cannot blame the fans or anybody, I take the full blame for that.”
More Rocket, B3