There’s nothing better to get the playoff juices rolling here on Prince Edward Island than a matchup with hated mainland rival Halifax and that’s exactly what could happen as the Charlottetown Islanders head into the final weekend of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League regular season.
The Islanders played Acadie-Bathurst Friday and finish with Saint John tonight at 7 p.m. at the Eastlink Centre.
It’s very possible that Halifax and Charlottetown could meet in the opening round and that could lead to fireworks. The famous senior pro hockey Charlottetown Islanders started the rivalry against Halifax in the early 1950s with the likes of Frank Bathgate and Phil Vitale and the rivalry intensified in the late 1960s when the Jack Hynes-coached junior Islanders (Al McAdam, Hill Graves, Bob MacMillan, etc.) tangled with the Halifax junior Canadians (Norm Guimond, Jim Read, etc.) for the Maritime title.
Whether it’s Halifax or not, the Islanders will face a top club and that should be a great character-building series for the youthful Islanders, who deserve a lot of credit for making wholesale changes and still having enough left to make the playoffs.
And there’s more Halifax-Charlottetown rivalry. The basketball Island Storm opened their Atlantic Division championship playoff series Wednesday against a vastly improved Halifax Rainmen club, which knocked off first-place Saint John in four games.
Owner Duncan Shaw has been moving players in and out of the province and his wheeling and dealing has paid off. When guard and captain Al Stewart went out with injuries two months ago, point guard Adrian Moss stepped up and delivered one top-class performance after another. Nick Okorie joined Moss in the backcourt and with Antonio Ballard leading the team offensively, the Storm headed into the playoffs with a lot of upside.
And how about late season addition to the Storm of power forward Casey Love, who was some impressive and showed great moves and a nice soft touch in Wednesday’s overtime win. The Storm win was even more impressive when one considers they played the last eight minutes and overtime minus Ballard and Stewart.
Basketball analyst Bruce Rainnie, who occupies front row floor seats, suggested: “It will be very difficult to win this series without Antonio Ballard.”
Ballard hurt his left wrist and Stewart injured his ankle. Let’s hope they’re back Sunday.
This series could be a long, tough series, similar to many Charlottetown-Halifax matchups during the years. Game two in this series goes Sunday at 2 p.m. from Eastlink Centre.
Minor hockey has been serving up some great entertainment in recent weeks as witnessed by the Island major midget championships between the Kensington Monaghan Farms Wild and the Charlottetown Mark’s Work Wearhouse Islanders and the bantam AAA series featuring Summerside Capitals and Charlottetown Abbies.
The Wild, under head coach Mark Carragher and assistants Kyle Dunn and Mark Fortier, jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and many thought this might be a short series. Charlottetown bounced back and won the next two before losing on an empty netter and by a late goal in the sixth and final game. The Wild will now represent P.E.I. at the Atlantics set for April 3 to 6 in New Glasgow, N.S.
The bantam Abbies weren’t supposed to beat second-place West Prince but they did in a thrilling fifth and deciding game in O’Leary, earning the right to advance to the championship round against first-place Summerside. Head coach Corey Gaudet and goalie coach Robbie Roberts have done a super job with this team rolling three lines and playing everyone.
Talented defenceman Chris McQuaid scored the winner in their opening game, 4-3 over Summerside at Credit Union Place, with Game 2 set for today at 1:30 p.m. at Simmonds arena. Thomas Casey has been scoring with regularity in the playoffs for the Abbies while speedster Robbie Howatt and centre Jack Miller have been really stepped up their game. Another catching my attention was Abbies defenceman Kallum Muirhead, who is solid defensively but can lug the puck as well.
Roberts has done a great job with Ava Boutilier, who was terrific in the series win over West Prince, and with first-year bantam Matt Halliwell, who was MVP in the championship game of the Miramichi tournament. Matt hasn’t played in this series as the Abbies are staying with Ava’s hot hand, as one would expect.
Summerside has two top defencemen in talented Noah Dobson and Sam Bernard and a solid cast of forwards, including Brodie MacArthur, Tyson Arsenault and Zachary Thususka. Another Caps standout Taylor Reid hasn’t played yet because of an ankle injury so this series is up for grabs.
On the NFL front, shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis refused to take a pay cut for Tampa Bay and jumped ship and signed with Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. What an addition.
Cowboys standout defender DeMarcus Ware has signed with Denver Broncos filling a huge hole for the Peyton Manning-led club.
Charlottetown native Barry Doyle is home for another few days visiting with his down east buddies Mike and Roger Duffy.
Doyle, who starred in football and high school hockey at Colonel Gray back in the 1970s, spent 30 years with the Toronto police force before retiring two years ago. He and the Duffy boys are planning for the impending Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup parade.
Don Connors, who was a standout linebacker with the St. Dunstan’s High School 1967 Potato bowl champions, passed away this past week. Don was manager of the Basilica Rec Centre for many years and a gentleman.
To his wife Rosalie and all connected, our condolences.
No live harness racing at the city track but there’s plenty of simulcast racing available from The Big M, Woodbine and the thoroughbred tracks in the afternoon.
The $34,000 top class tonight at Woodbine has attracted a field of seven. Apprentice Hanover (Jody Jamieson) has been the boss of this class in recent months but his biggest test could come from Modern Legend (James MacDonald), who is coming off a big 13-win week, including back-to-back doubles at Woodbine.
Others include In Commando, Top Gear, Wazzup Wazzup, Daddy Warbucks and McKinney.
The harness racing community was saddened to hear of Charlottetown native Paul Stanley’s passing last week in Port Hawkesbury, N.S. Stanley was a standout with the Strait Pirates, which captured the 1967 Maritime junior title. That team included guys like Stanley, Hilliard Graves, Jim MacDougall and Alan Acorn. Stanley was not just a standout hockey player but for many years was a horse owner and partner with Charlottetown trainer-driver Ron Matheson on numerous stake contenders. He was also an Old Home Week regular and was on the Island for the Gold Cup last summer.
Another former horseman, Lorne Wood, passed away here this week. Lorne raced the trotter Zither (Phonograph-Zelda Hanover) back in the early 1960s.
Our condolences to all those connected with these two great guys.
Fred MacDonald’s column appears in The Guardian each Saturday. He can be reached at email@example.com.