No matter which way one looks at the past UPEI men’s hockey season, one has to be tremendously proud of the performances by the puck Panthers, despite losing their last two home games to what is obviously a much bigger and overall better team.
The smaller and faster Panthers gave it everything they had, displaying a tenacious forechecking game that had become their trademark since just after the Christmas break. Forbie MacPherson and his coaching staff deserve a great deal of credit for the standout performances. Whoever expected this club, without last year’s leading scorers Matt Carter and Jarod Gomes, to be this good in such a tough and competitive conference? The Panthers gave 100 per cent and, as is sometimes the case in sports, their 100 per cent was not as good as the team from Fredericton.
Had UPEI drawn away from UNB and matched against Saint Mary’s, the outcome may have been different and maybe UPEI would still be playing. Regardless, both UNB and SMU are headed to the nationals, so let’s get behind our Maritime representatives and wish them well.
On the National Hockey League front, the Montreal Canadiens displayed their skating game and dominated the Toronto Maple Leafs, winning 5-2 Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre. The loss dropped the Maple Leafs to 4-5 at home while their road record is a sharp 9-4.
The Leafs looked terrible against the Canadiens and some Habs’ fans are suggesting that maybe the bubble has burst for the rough and tough Leafs. They certainly didn’t display an abundance of frontline talent on Wednesday, nor could anyone fault the goaltending, which kept the score respectable. The Leafs need Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk to be on top of their game every night, but against the Habs they were non-existent.
The Leafs are at home Monday and Wednesday to the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators. These are two games the Leafs should and must win if they hope to keep their playoff hopes alive. Let’s face it, Ottawa is winning without the top goaltender in the league in Craig Anderson, the best defenceman in Erik Karlsson and one of the league’s best forwards in Jason Spezza. How long can this continue?
AUS basketball playoffs
The UPEI basketball Panthers played Saint Mary’s in the AUS playoffs at the Halifax Metro Centre last night as they continue to surprise despite the injuries.
They do not have any big men and are relying on their pressure and speed game, which has taken them to a 13-7 record and third-place finish behind Cape Breton and Acadia. At Thursday’s awards dinner, Panthers D.J. Smith was named rookie of the year, most deserving.
Major junior hockey
The P.E.I. Rocket continues its swing into Quebec tonight against Rouyn-Noranda. The return of speedster Yan-Pavel LaPlante has really helped, as his line with Victor Provencher and Louick Marcotte provides much needed scoring to take some of the pressure of Josh Currie, Ben Duffy and Matej Beran.
Standout rookie Alex Pépin has really come around and anchors a third line giving the club more depth.
Playoff tickets are now on sale at the box office with five- and 10-game packages available.
Don Morrison, the former sports editor at The Guardian, has been a fixture on the Island sports scene for the better part of 40 years, but has had some health issues during the past year.
I’ve come across a great many people in the sports arena and there’s not many as fine a gentleman, nor a more fair and balanced writer, than Don Morrison. His friends are having a fundraiser for him on Thursday, March 14 at the Olde Dublin Pub with entertainment, trivia and a silent auction. Serge Savard Sr., who is recovering from knee surgery in Hilton Head, is sending along a Montreal Canadiens jersey for the silent auction. Savard will autograph the jersey and meet the highest bidder when he comes to Charlottetown. There are other great auction items including a Buffalo Sabres jersey autographed by Thomas Vanek.
Mark this date on your calendar. If you have items or ideas to help make the night a rousing success, contact Wade Babineau at The Guardian 629-6000, extension 6102, or Tom Tessier at 892-7523.
In local harness racing news, the live portion of the business is dark but simulating continues. Still no good news from Ontario, where the new premier plunges from one fiasco to another. It’s obvious she is clueless on the harness racing file, and this past week QC Robert Burgess showed in his letter to the media when there is harness racing the tracks do a booming racino business at the in-house slots, which is up 10 to 20 per cent.
The same trend continues at the New York tracks, on nights there is racing. With no racing and less traffic, the handle slides significantly and this is shown to be true in New York, Ontario, New Jersey and here in Charlottetown. Why Ontario continues to pursue the casino-only business when the casino business is sliding downwards everywhere is mindboggling.
The annual P.E.I. Horsemen’s Banquet is set for April 6 at the Dutch Inn in Cornwall. There’s lots of rumours about a high-profile guest speaker from the harness racing world, so we’ll have to wait and see.
On the track, Carl Jamieson’s Warrawee Needy makes his Meadowlands debut tonight in the first leg of the $35,000 Aquarius series. Mark Ford trains and Mark MacDonald drives. This duo also has the lightly raced Somebeachsomewhere colt BeachFront in the $48,000 Junior Trendsetter on the same card.
At Woodbine tonight, there is a number of familiar four-legged faces on the card: Oakmont, Fire On The Water, Acceptable Risk and Chasin Racin. Jody Jamieson has eight drives while Anthony MacDonald has six on the 11-dash card.
Simulcast racing from Flamboro is on tap this afternoon and is available at Red Shores and all the Islanders are driving: Paul MacKenzie, A Mac, Jason Ryan, Tyler Moore, Garrett Whelan, Robert and Patrick Shepherd.
Jamie MacKinley’s Windfall Blue Chip, who raced so well at Woodbine before a throat infection, will be returning to P.E.I. next weekend. MacKinley said Windfall, who will return for the breeding season, will have the UPEI vet college collect on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and analyze the semen if necessary. Any breeders are asked to contact MacKinley at 394-2023 or visit his website at JamieMacKinley.com. More on other stallions next week.
Fred MacDonald's column appears in The Guardian each Saturday. Contact him at