© Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Deontay Smith of the UPEI Panthers goes up for the rebound against the Cape Breton University Capers.
The UPEI basketball teams conclude a weekend swing against perennial powerhouse St. F.X. this evening on campus.
The women hope to keep their playoff hopes alive with a 4 p.m. game while the injury-riddled men’s team already guaranteed a trip to the playoffs in Halifax face fourth-place X. It’s seldom one sees a Steve Konchalski-coached St. F.X. team below .500, so I wouldn’t overlook X tonight or in the playoffs.
Tonight’s 6 p.m. game pits two of the league’s very best coaches against one another, so don’t be surprised if the game goes down to the buzzer. Since Cape Breton and Acadia are assured byes in the opening round of the playoffs, these two clubs could meet in the quarter-finals.
The Panthers started the season with high hopes but when they lost two big starters for the season: Donnie Moss, who averaged 18.7 points last season, and Will Caesar in the early going, the outlook was as bright as a passenger on the Titanic.
The Panthers have managed to stay afloat in the playoff race thanks to a terrific cast of rookies and the coaching skill of Tim Kendrick. The Nova Scotia native who led the province to a silver medal in the Canada Games at Summerside, losing by a single point to Quebec in the championship game, has done a miraculous coaching job.
In a victory over Acadia just after the Christmas break, the Panthers had five rookies on the floor at a crucial point late in the game.
Rookie D.J. Smith, who hails from North Preston, N.S., leads all conference rookies in points per game, minutes, rebounds, assists and steals. He does everything but drive the team bus.
Mandrez Downey is a slick ball-handling guard, quick and with a nice touch, who has a terrific future as does freshman Lorenzo Parker, an all-around player who contributes wherever he is asked to play.
Brian Ofori, a six-foot-five Montreal native, is another rookie who keeps getting better and better with every game. He is a defensive and rebounding presence who can also score.
Then there’s 18-year-old Three Oaks standout Lucas Coughlin, the six-foot-seven forward gets playing time in a league where he often goes up against guys much older and with vastly more experience.
Sammy Opel and Brandon Wallace are two other rookies getting valuable playing times because of injuries. Who really knows what kind of players they may eventually turn out to be, especially under Kendrick.
Right now, Panthers starters Geoff Doane, who played on Kendrick’s Canada Games team, Joey Kendrick, who was rookie of the year when Brock won the nationals, Jermaine Duke, who leads the conference in blocked shots and Charlottetown Rural grad and Stratford native Aaron Robbins, who gets about 16 minutes per game, all play important roles on a very young and up and coming team.
The basketball Panthers both men and women could not be in better hands. Kendrick and women’s coach Greg Gould, who has fashioned a terrific record during the years in New Brunswick, are two of the best in the business.
Around the rinks
The P.E.I. Rocket entertains Saint John tonight at 7 p.m. at the Civic Centre in Quebec major junior action. After last Tuesday’s disappointing loss in Halifax to the Mooseheads, the Rocket should bounce back big time tonight. The addition of Yan-Pavel LaPlante to the lineup gives coach Gord Dwyer plenty of options so let’s get out and support our junior club.
On the university front, by the time you read this column, hopefully the UPEI Panthers will have sidelined St. F.X. in AUS playoff hockey. Coach Forbie MacPherson has done a terrific job with this club that believes they can win it all.
Road to the Brier
Eddie MacKenzie’s rink stole a single point in the extra end Monday night and deserved full marks in winning the Island championship and the right to represent P.E.I. at the Brier.
Also headed back to the Brier as coach of the P.E.I. rink is veteran Al Ledgerwood, who knows more about curling history than anybody in Canada.
Ledgerwood, the Moses of curling, was a spectator at the 1964 Brier here at the Charlottetown Forum where the P.E.I. team of skip Art Burke, Bobby Dillon, Alan Smith and Stu Lavers finished 5-5, losing their final game in the 13th end to eventual champion British Columbia.
The MacKenzie rink has had a taste of the Brier two years ago and that experience combined with Ledgerwood’s guidance tells me this team will surprise some of the teams at the Brier. Good luck boys.
The Pownal midget AAA hockey team has fashioned quite a record this season. They finished first in the Island league, captured the Monctonian tournament and won our own Spud tourney two weeks ago.
Coach is Shane Kelly (Linus and Brenda’s boy) and assistant coaches are Sean Corcoran and Nickel MacDonald.
Pownal’s next challenge is the upcoming Island playoffs and they have the first-round bye. Some of their top guns are defenceman Sam Hughes, forward John MacKenzie and speedster Pat Cummiskey. Toughest competition will likely be Charlottetown and don’t be surprised if that crown comes this side of the Hillsborough River.
On Friday, Feb. 22, at the Murphy Community Centre, there’s the Alan “Flake” Power benefit dance and silent auction in aid of the ex-fastball star who is having health problems. It goes from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
At the track
No live harness racing but plenty of simulcast action at Red Shores Charlottetown, including the weekly handicapping challenge on Thursdays.
Jamie MacKinley’s new stallion Windfall Blue Chip (by Art Major) is still racing and last Saturday night, he flew home last quarter in 26.2, to finish third beaten a neck in 1:52 in the Woodbine $24,000 class.
Monday night Gary and Brett Revington R E’s Art (Anthony MacDonald) was third in 1:56.3 in the claiming ranks. This colt was trained by Jamie Smith here last year.
Jody Jamieson was master of ceremonies in Anthony MacDonald’s fundraiser Tuesday night at Guelph. Among the horsemen supporters was colourful ex-Abbies defenceman Vince Keenan.
Meridian Farms of Milton has quite an array of top-class stallions for broodmare owners to consider. Two that were advertised in the most recent edition of Trot magazine are Gold Cup and Saucer winner D riven to Win p, 1:49.3 whose first crop here race as two year olds in 2013 and Test Flight p, 1:50.3, the fast son of Mach Three who banked $500,000 plus who stands in Alberta.
Fred MacDonald’s column appears in The Guardian each Saturday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.