The UPEI basketball and men’s hockey Panthers are home this weekend hoping to build on overall strong performances during the past few weeks.
Heading into Friday’s game, the men’s basketball Panthers were 6-6 and tied for third with 18 points, only four back of first-place Acadia and two behind second-place UNB. Last week, the Tim Kendrick-coached Panthers split with Acadia in Wolfville, N.S., handing the Axemen a rare home defeat in the Saturday game. The Panthers got great performances from the usual suspects D.J. Smith, Donnie Moss and Ellis Ffrench, but they got great play from the large supporting cast, especially Geoff Doane and Joe Kendrick.
Stratford’s Aaron Robbins is playing the best basketball of his university career as was evident not just last week but the previous week in the important road victory over St. Mary’s in Halifax. Tonight at 5 p.m., the Panthers host a high-scoring UNB club that includes Javon Masters, who is averaging 27.7 points per game to top the conference.
The women Panthers are hosting the Atlantic University Sport championship in early March and head coach Greg Gould, another highly regarded UPEI coach, thinks his club can finish second. At 5-7 they need a sweep of last-place UNB (3-8) to make that goal a realistic one. Danielle MacDonald and Amy Gough are the only Panthers in double figures in scoring, each averaging 11 points per game, and the supporting cast needs to step up if the Panthers are to break the logjam of teams all around the .500 mark. Saint Mary’s is clearly the best women’s team right now at 12-0.
Today’s 3 p.m. game with UNB is a must win for the Panthers if they hope to finish second or third and avoid top-seed SMU until later rounds of the AUS tournament.
On the hockey front, the Forbie MacPherson-coached Panthers enjoyed a terrific road trip last week with a 3-0 win over St. F.X. in Antigonish, N.S., and a 3-2 victory against Saint Mary’s in Halifax. Tonight at 7 p.m., the Panthers tangle with first-place UNB and if this evening’s game is anything like November’s 3-2 thriller here, then fans are in for a threat. UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall, who will eventually make his way to the NHL, has again fashioned a championship-calibre team. UNB will not have last year’s QMJHL scoring leader Ben Duffy in the lineup even though he’s attending the university. Duffy scored a goal for UNB Tuesday night in a 4-3 exhibition loss to Maine Black Bears, but he cannot play in the league because UNB has met its roster limit.
AUS men’s hockey is the only sport and the only conference in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) with a player cap on rosters. Each AUS team can only carry 22 skaters and the Varsity Reds have reached their limit.
“He has to basically redshirt. He is allowed to play exhibition games,” MacDougall said.
Duffy is playing senior hockey in Newfoundland on the weekends.
UNB still has lots of firepower in Chris Culligan, Phillippe Maillet, Thomas Nesbitt and Taylor MacDougall, among others, for the nationally No. 3-ranked club.
The Panthers own fourth place in the tough Atlantic conference behind UNB, Acadia and Moncton and if the season was to end right now, they are in a position to host the extra playoff game in a best-of-three opening round. The Panthers are getting great mileage out of Alex Wall, who is the team’s blue-line quarterback.
Forwards like Mason Wilgosh, Chris DeSousa, Tyler Brown and Dana Fraser and clever sniper Jordan Mayer carry the bulk of the offensive load. In recent outings, the line of Cole MacMillan, Travis McIsaac and Nathan McQuaid has played very well and, of course, the goaltending of Wayne Savage and Mavric Parks is always first class. The Panthers’ trademark is all-out hustle from all hands and that’s what will be needed against a big, tough UNB club. Seats are limited, so be at the rink early.
On the topic of poor decisions, how about the P.E.I. amateur hockey’s association decision to zone the province so Island teams might be able to better compete in mainland tournaments.
Right now, there are seven teams in the Island bantam AAA league and the association wants to drop it to four. At a time when we should be encouraging kids to play hockey or stay in game, this boneheaded decision will guarantee that fewer kids will be playing hockey. Worse still, forcing Summerside and West Prince to merge into one club when each is capable of icing a strong team makes no sense.
Then there’s the issue of practice times — when and where?
In addition, if the decision remains, it will be a logistic nightmare for parents.
There are many reasons why such a zoning experiment should not take place and one of the strongest arguments is it does not take into consideration kids mature and develop at different rates and times. An average bantam AAA player today or a top AA player may be the best AAA player tomorrow. The best peewee AAA player today may not be the best bantam AAA player tomorrow. Right now, Summerside, West Prince and Charlottetown are I-2-3 and next year the top two will combine into one.
Back to the drawing board and rethink this one boys.
The Super Bowl next week should be a dandy as it pits Denver’s high-powered offence, the best in the NFL against Seattle’s tough defence, the most physical D in the league.
Playing the Super Bowl in the middle of the winter in the east is not my idea of a fair test, but I didn’t make that decision. Poor conditions hamper Denver’s great passing game, so let’s hope for good weather and excellent conditions for football’s greatest test,
Next week is the my annual Super Bowl poll and we’ll hear what “the experts” have to say — the majority in the poll are usually correct.
I received a large number of calls and comments on our last sports/hockey trivia piece, so the Sports Prophet has another for you.
I’ve gotten some help from sports trivia masters Steve McCabe and Paul Strain of the Merchantman Pub and Jamie MacLeod from the LCC.
u 1. Name the first three NHL wingers to register 70-plus assists in the same season.
u 2. These two defencemen scored 20 or more goals on at least five occasions.
u 3. What goalie stopped Wayne Gretzky on his consecutive scoring streak?
u 4. Who was the first Finnish player to player in the NHL all-star game?
u 5. Who has the most penalty minutes by a centre in a single season?
u 6. Who was the last NHL goalie to play without a mask?
u 7. Who has the most points by an NHL rookie in one game?
u 8. Here’s one for my Kingston friends and huge Leafs’ fans Clifford Green and Garth Holmes. When the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup who scored the winning goal?
u 9. Two NHL players played 86 games in one season, the most ever. Name one of them.
u 10. Who holds the record for most points in the Stanley Cup final series?
Live harness racing continues today at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park with a 13-dash card. Post time is 1 p.m.
The $2,000 top class goes in Race 12 and has attracted a good field of six, including from the rail out Panacotta (Mark Bradley), Miracle Matts (Corey MacPherson), Pinner (Brodie MacPhee), P C Shockwave (Brian MacPhee), Nobestbfor (Walter Cheverie) and Cambest Kisser (Jason Hughes).
The O’Brien Awards gala at the Delta Prince Edward in Charlottetown is inching closer with the big weekend of Feb. 7 to 8 in sight. The kitchen party is set for Friday evening and tickets have been flying, so buy early, don’t be disappointed.
Of course, the Saturday night O’Brien Awards in our home province should be an eye-opener for those who have never been there.
The wedding of James MacDonald and Jenna MacDonell on Monday in Jamaica has resulted in six Woodbine drivers absent for the next week. James, brother Anthony, Jody Jamieson, Bill Davis, Mike Saftic and Paul MacDonell, as well as Charlottetown’s Marc Campbell, will be in Montego Bay. As for me, I shall be thinking of you folks and having a few pops.
Fred MacDonald's column appears in
The Guardian each Saturday. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.