CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – As 2017 draws to a close and the curtain goes up for the second half and the 2018 season, let's take a look at what to expect from the three most popular teams on the Prince Edward Island Sports scene.
The Charlottetown Islanders
Even the most loyal of junior Islanders hockey fans would not have suggested a 20-13-2 record at the Christmas break, just six points out of first place, but that's what happened as this club finds itself in the hunt for a top eight finish and the chance of a home date in the opening round of the Q playoffs.
I know that's a long way off but every night the Islanders seem to have a new unheralded player step up and star. Their roster is loaded with guys who now think they're important pieces on this club and who knows how long this type of performance can continue.
On Thursday night, the Islanders blanked the Mooseheads 2-0 right in Halifax thanks to the outstanding goaltending of Matthew Welsh, who now has more career wins than any other Islander goaltender.
In this game, Pascal Aquin scored both goals for the Charlottetown-based club and his stock as a hockey player has jumped enormously since the first of the season. The old sports adage, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, comes to mind with this Islanders club, so why make any significant changes. I don't see any powerhouse teams in the league right now, but that could change during the trading period in the next week. For protection against a key injury, the Islanders could add a 20-year-old sniper to the mix but only if the price is right.
UPEI Panthers men’s hockey
The UPEI Panthers are fighting for their playoff lives with Dal and Moncton, but the gap between these three and the top four of UNB, St. FX, Acadia and Saint Mary’s is significant.
UNB added high-scoring Alexandre Goulet, the leading scorer with Jacksonville of the ECHL and the junior Islanders first-round pick of 2013. He was 39-50, sixth overall in scoring in the Quebec league last season. Acadia Axemen also added forward Cristiano DiGiacinto, also from Jacksonville, for the second half run. It is very likely that St. FX and Saint Mary’s will bolster their rosters for the second half as well. As for the bottom three, it is very, very difficult to recruit when the likelihood of getting to the nationals in Fredericton, N.B., in March is extremely slim.
The Panthers have talent on the forward ranks, but need help defensively and landing quality defenders at the halfway mark is a difficult task.
The Island Storm basketball drew one of their biggest crowds ever last Saturday and they didn't disappoint, winning another thriller over arch-rival Moncton Magic.
The National Basketball League of Canada’s Atlantic Division has really tightened as all the clubs can beat the other on any given night. Cape Breton has led in the final quarter of their last five games and won only two with victories over Halifax and Moncton. This type of tight competition should help at the box office, which is great news all the way around.
The Storm have crowd favourites emerging after 12 games and they include Andre Stringer, Franklin Session, Du'Vaughn Maxwell, Tyler Scott, Chris Johnson and Marcus Bell plus a terrific supporting cast. Their next outing is Sunday at 2 p.m. at Eastlink Centre against the Halifax Hurricanes.
I was right
Let's take a look back at some of the predictions, the Sports Prophet made a few months ago, right here in this column:
1. The Toronto Maple Leafs will finish near the top of the NHL Eastern Conference standings, the Canadians near the bottom and out of the playoffs.
2. In late October, Las Vegas Knights to make a serious run at the playoffs, Gerard Gallant nominated for NHL coach of the year.
3. After watching the Storm practice twice, I said this is the best basketball team we've ever had.
4. I've never seen Islanders goalie Matthew Welsh play a bad game and I've been in his corner since last year.
Let's have a show of hands, how am I doing?
Live harness racing continues Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at the city track with a 14-dash card.
The $2,400 feature goes in Race 13 and it includes, from the rail out, Jeb, Woggy Rocks, Czar Seelster, Nogreatmischief, Adkins Hanover and Rose Run Quest.
Southport's George Brookins, who as an owner helped launch the careers of harness racing stars Marc Campbell and Corey MacPherson, is recovering from health issues and looks great. George lugged UPEI hockey, Summerside Western Caps and various Holland College sports teams throughout the Maritimes in the 1980s and 1990s. His dad George from Kensington owned the great trot champion Christie Budlong.
Popular and gifted Pompano Park, Fla., trainer Danny Hennessey and his sons Joey and Jacob were among the new faces to the Charlottetown track recently. Joey is a six-foot-four, hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, whose nine saves established a new Palm Beach Atlantic University Sailfish team record and he posted a sharp 2.87 ERA.
Joey's uncle Wally was the Colonel Gray and provincial badminton champ while Jody was a peewee hockey sniper and may have gone further had it not been for donuts.
Also among the visitors was Truro's Ben Hollingsworth, a top conditioner and trainer with Mark Stacey in Ontario. Ben learned his lessons from the great horseman Phil Pinkney.
It's been a sad month for veteran horsemen and this past week we lost the popular WJ R “Mac” MacDonald who owned and operated the Centurion Stable with his wife Eileen (MacArthur). Mac owned and drove horses here until the last decade. He also served as Summerside chief of police and chairman of the P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission. To his sons Dean and Roddy and all connected to this gentleman, my condolences.
This week I share a couple of Johnny Bower stories in our weekly video.
The NFL heads into the final weekend with a number of playoff spots yet to be determined. Keep in mind, in the past five years, teams in a must-win situation failed to cover the spread, a surprising 60 per cent of the time.
New York Jets at New England Patriots – The Pats need the win to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC and keep in mind over the last eight years, the top seed made it to the Super Bowl seven times.
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings – A Vikings win clinches the top seed in the NFC.
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens make the playoffs if they win, it's that simple.
The Jacksonville Jags at Tennessee Titans – The Titans need a victory to advance to post-season play.
I'd advise betting the above four must-win home teams on the money line only. The other games, I'd pass as teams are resting regular players and playing out the string.
Fred MacDonald's column appears every Saturday in The Guardian. He can be reached at email@example.com.