A hockey team on life support five months ago has been given a new lease on life.
The Charlottetown Islanders were on the verge of moving to Quebec in April when a last-ditch effort by a group of local businesspeople saved the franchise. They worked out a deal to purchase the team from the Savard family and begin a new chapter tonight when they host the Memorial Cup-defending champion Halifax Mooseheads at 7 p.m.
“It was looking pretty dim,” said Shawn MacKenzie, one of 18 new owners of the franchise. “Up until probably an hour or three hours before the deal was done, I didn’t think it was going to happen.”
It did and Saint John, N.B., native Matt Bursey couldn’t be happier.
“P.E.I. is home now. I was excited when the team stayed here and I am looking forward to the season,” the third-year forward said before Thursday’s practice.
He said there is more buzz around the team than he can remember during his first two seasons.
“It’s exciting,” he said.
MacKenzie said he has heard the sentiment from people who know how close the Island was to losing the squad. They know if the team was to leave, it is highly unlikely it would be back.
Some of those people are showing their support before the season begins. The team has sold about 1,450 season tickets compared to the 900 they would have had this time last year.
“It’s just sheer excitement to hear how happy people are,” MacKenzie said.
If there was a word to aptly describe the franchise it would be new.
There’s new ownership, a new name, new jersey, new logo, new colour schemes, new staff and many new faces on the roster. The Civic Centre and dressing room have also been given a new look.
“It’s crazy, the changes, you wouldn’t even know it’s the same room,” Bursey said. “It’s unbelievable the work everyone has put into this new organization.”
Brian MacDonald never thought he’d be a part owner of a major junior hockey team, but wanted to do his part to keep the franchise here.
“I love Prince Edward Island. This is my home and always will be,” he said while catching a practice earlier this week. “We had a major junior hockey team and I wanted to make sure we always had a major junior hockey team. I thought we could make it work.”
He wrote a history paper on the Junior Islanders of the late 1960s and early 1970s while in university.
“I think a lot of people would agree that may have been the highlight of hockey on P.E.I.,” he said.
MacDonald said the team had great players with a winning tradition and loyal fan support.
MacDonald is not happy with just making the playoffs.
He would like to see the franchise make runs like its neighbours in Halifax, Saint John and Moncton.
“I want to win a Memorial Cup,” he said. “I think we can do it here.”
It won’t happen overnight, but MacDonald said he sees a hard-working, skilled team with lots of character wearing the black and gold this year.
“Hockey fans know you’re not going to win every game,” he said. “Win or lose if you put a good effort on the ice people will come back, that to me is key.”
Need to know
What: A Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team.
History: The team started as the Montreal Rocket in 1999 before relocating to Charlottetown and becoming the P.E.I. Rocket in 2003. The Savard family sold the team to a group of 18 businesspeople in April.
Best season: The team won a franchise-record 41 games last season. Ben Duffy led the league in scoring with 110 points while linemate Josh Currie finished third with 104.
2013-14 season opener:
When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
Where: Charlottetown Civic Centre
Opponent: Halifax Mooseheads
Festivities: Start at 5:30 p.m. with the first 2,500 fans receiving a foam finger.
Can’t make it: Eastlink will be broadcasting the game
Online: Visit www.theguardian.pe.ca for a video and slideshow
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League regular season standings
W L O S F A P
Moncton 1 0 0 0 4 0 2
Bathurst 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Cape Breton 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Charlottetown 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Saint John 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Halifax 0 1 0 0 0 4 0
W L O S F A P
Baie-Comeau 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chicoutimi 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Quebec 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rimouski 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Shawinigan 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Victoriaville 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
W L O S F A P
Blainville 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Drummondville 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Gatineau 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rouyn-Noranda 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sherbrooke 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Val-d’Or 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
O, S – one point for overtime and shootout losses, which are not included in loss column.
Moncton 4, Halifax 0
Cape Breton at Bathurst, 7 p.m.
Halifax at Charlottetown, 7 p.m.
Saint John at Moncton, 7 p.m.
Quebec at Chicoutimi, 8 p.m.
Shawinigan at Victoriaville, 8 p.m.
Rimouski at Baie-Comeau, 8:30 p.m.
Sherbrooke at Blainville-Boisbriand, 8:30 p.m.
Rouyn-Noranda at Drummondville, 8:30 p.m.
Val-d’Or at Gatineau, 8:30 p.m.
Rimouski at Baie-Comeau, 5 p.m.
Rouyn-Noranda at Blainville-Boisbriand, 5 p.m.
Cape Breton at Charlottetown, 7 p.m.
Val-d’Or at Drummondville, 8 p.m.
Saint John at Bathurst, 3 p.m.
Shawinigan at Chicoutimi, 5 p.m.
Sherbrooke at Gatineau, 5 p.m.
Quebec at Victoriaville, 5 p.m.
Canadian Hockey League pre-season top 10 rankings:
1. London Knights
2. Baie-Comeau Drakkar
3. Portland Winterhawks
4. Rimouski Oceanic
5. Guelph Storm
6. Prince Albert Raiders
7. Quebec Remparts
8. Edmonton Oil Kings
9. Kingston Frontenacs
10. Kootenay Ice
The Charlottetown Islanders begin their first season since being rebranded tonight. From left are general manager Grant Sonier and Brian MacDonald, one of the 18 owners of the franchise.