The much-anticipated return to action for the UPEI men’s hockey Panthers is over.
The puck drops tonight for the team’s first game of the pre-season, with the Atlantic University Sport squad taking on Quebec’s Trois Rivieres Patriots (UQTR) in a weekend doubleheader at MacLauchlan Arena. Game times are 7 p.m. tonight and noon Saturday.
Coming off the team’s most successful season in many years, the Panthers return to the ice has been eagerly awaited by players and fans.
Tickets have been selling fast for both the regular season and exhibition matches, added head coach Forbes MacPherson.
“There’s obviously some excitement in the air for the first game back. It’s been a long summer,” said MacPherson, adding the team has been practicing the past several weeks.
Although it’s just exhibition action, this weekend will be a crucial test for the Panthers, with UQTR having competed in the national championships last year in Fredericton.
Historically, the team has been a national powerhouse, said MacPherson, adding the Panthers are up for the challenge.
“That’s what exhibition is all about, to test yourself and see where you’re at and what you need to work on,” he said.
Team captain and fourth-year defenceman Dylan Quaile said the team hopes to sweep the weekend.
“We want to be the hardest team in the league to play against,” he said of the upcoming season.
He added the team, which ended 15 years of playoff frustration for UPEI last year, has a good core returning as well as some young talent added to the lineup.
“We have probably the top two goalies in the league,” he said, of returning netminder Mavric Parks and Wayne Savage.
Parks, who won UPEI men’s athlete rookie of the year last year, is now in his second year with the team, while Savage has returned to the university after playing between the pipes in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.