SUMMERSIDE – The Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals’ season ended just over a week ago.
The Caps lost Game 7 of the Eastlink North Division final series 8-3 to the host Edmundston Blizzard, after defeating the Campbellton Tigers 4-1 in the division semifinals. It was the third year in a row the Caps reached the second round of the post-season.
The Capitals, who entered the season expecting to compete for a playoff spot, completed the regular season a surprising 33-16-1-0 (won-lost-overtime losses-shootout losses). That was good enough for second place in the division, and third overall in the 12-team MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League).
Capitals head coach Billy McGuigan recently reflected on the 2017-18 Caps’ season with the Journal Pioneer, and offered his thoughts on what next year’s team could potentially look like.
JP: Overall, are you able to put the team’s season in perspective?
BM: “We had a great season overall. I’m real proud of it.”
JP: What was your message to the team after Game 7?
BM: “I told them we are extremely proud of the season we had, extremely proud of the group we had. We were one of the, if not the, youngest teams in the league. The base of our core group of guys were younger guys. It was great careers for the graduating guys, and we are sad to see those guys go. The message was as an organization, a team and a coach, we are real proud of the efforts they put in all season long. Even in a 7-3 hockey game in Game 7, my guys continued to battle.”
JP: With only six graduating players, and the possibility of some eligible returnees getting opportunities at other levels, can you comment on the future of this team?
BM: “Obviously, right now, we feel the future looks bright for sure. Junior A hockey, I’ve learned over the years, it’s not always at the end of the season what you have coming back. A lot of times teams will add players you never expected them to add, and teams get players coming out of major junior. That’s the reality of the situation you are in at this level. You can go from last place in the league to first overall. . . Right now our core group of players who gave us such a successful season, and was our core group in the playoffs, are all eligible to return. From that standpoint we are real excited. I wish next year was starting tomorrow. If we add some pieces in the off-season that we need. . . Obviously, we need to upgrade our defence, I believe. In nets, we have Dom (Tmej) eligible to return. . . (Goaltender)Matt Williams is eligible to return coming back from Saint John (of Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). He looks to be in tremendous shape, he’s had had a great season with them and gained some valuable experience. TJ (Shea), Brodie (MacArthur), Cam Roberts, the No. 1 line in the Maritime Hockey League through the regular season and playoffs, are eligible to return. Great young players like Jordan Spence, Josh MacDonald, we’ll see what next year holds for them. You have (draft pick) Callum MacPherson coming into play, and we have a number of great players eligible to return, and our key core group of players from this year’s team is all eligible to return. That makes it pretty easy sledding to start the season, but you can lose guys at certain times to certain teams. Development of players is what we are in the business of here. You don’t like losing players from your program because we are also running a business and peoples livelihoods are at stake, but there is something to be said and having some pride about the fact we have graduated more players to the next level than any other junior team in the country over the last seven years.”
JP: Will the team be out aggressively recruiting over the summer?
BM: “My thoughts are we have a core group of guys, (defenceman) Jesse Annear, TJ Shea and that group, who are going to be 20 next year, and I think that’s the mandate – we have to go out and try to upgrade our hockey club, create some more depth, get stronger on the back end and add another couple of top-six forwards and see where the chips fall. In my opinion, I think the next two years here in Summerside could be strong and rewarding years for the program if we do it right.”
JP: Anything in particular you learned from your experience this year the Caps may be able to use to their advantage?
BM: “We did learn a lesson in how important home ice is, I can tell you that. Especially against a team like Edmundston, with that type of crowd and that type of atmosphere in their rink, but not only that, the travel. Our guys were gassed come Game 7, and I’m sure the Edmundston team was tired as well. It was a gruelling series. We were a much smaller team than them, and you could see it wearing on us come the end of the series.”