The P.E.I. Rocket will be playing a near mirror image of itself in the first round of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs.
The Val-d’Or Foreurs are a deep, physical team with high-end offensive talent and solid goaltending.
“We are very similar and we know that,” captain Josh Currie said. “We think we have a little more maybe depth on the backend than they do, but obviously we have to make sure we come to play every game.”
That challenge starts Friday night when the Rocket hosts their first playoff game in two years at 7 p.m. at the Civic Centre.
“A lot of us haven’t played playoff hockey in over a year,” Currie said Wednesday before practice at the Civic Centre. “We know this place is going to be rocking, and we just need to make sure we come out strong, stick to our game and get the crowd behind us and really feed off that.”
The series format has the first two games in Charlottetown with the next three in Val-d’Or. Games 6 and 7, if necessary, are in P.E.I.
“This home ice is huge,” Currie said. “You want to get these first two heading up there for three. . . It’s a tough barn to win in, so obviously we know the importance of these two home games.”
The team will be missing some of its muscle Friday with Jack Nevins serving a one-game suspension and Patrick McGrath serving the first of a two-game suspension. They both came from altercations in Sunday’s regular season finale against Saint John when the players were each assessed aggressor penalties.
“That’s a huge loss,” Currie said. “They go out every night and hit everything in sight.”
He said the rest of the team would have to pick up the slack, while playing disciplined. The two teams led the league in fighting majors this season and were in the top four in total penalty minutes.
“You are going to want to play a physical brand of hockey in the playoffs, but I don’t think there’ll be a whole lot of fisticuffs,” coach Gordie Dwyer said. “I think it’s just going to be a good solid game played from whistle to whistle.”
Antoine Bibeau gets the start. He came into the season as Maxime Lagace’s backup, but earned the job with steady play.
“For us, it’s going to be a battle, it’s going to be a war out there and we’re going to have to be sharp in the details,” Dwyer said. “Our top guys are going to have to out play their top guys and I think our support guys are going to play a big factor in the series as well.”
The Rocket enters the playoffs one of the league’s hottest teams at 8-1-0-1, including six straight victories to close out the season.
“We know this place is going to be rocking, and we just need to make sure we come out strong, stick to our game and get the crowd behind us and really feed off that.” - Josh Currie, P.E.I. Rocket captain
“We can’t be any more happy or satisfied with the way we finished the season,” Currie said. “It’s the perfect time for us to be clicking.”
Not bad for a team that was written off by some experts before the season began. Coming off finishing last in the 17-team league last year, The Hockey News ranked them to finish last behind the expansion Sherbrooke Phoenix and the Memorial Cup-winning Shawinigan Cataractes, which had lost many of its players from the championship squad.
“We weren’t too happy that everybody sort of counted us out,” Currie said. “We felt we were getting a little short shafted, but obviously that just gave us a little chip on our shoulder and we came out this year and just wanted to prove everybody wrong.”
The Rocket finished seventh and earned home-ice advantage, earned the most wins it team history and Ben Duffy led the league in points. Currie said the team is satisfied with the regular season success and wants to make some noise in the playoffs.
“We’re really looking forward at making a long run,” he said. “I think teams in the league know we’re a threat. We’re just going to go in there and really show teams we’re for real.”