SUMMERSIDE – There is a lot at stake for both the Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals and Campbellton Tigers.
The two teams will resume play in the MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) after a two-week Christmas break with an important head-to-head meeting at Eastlink Arena on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The Caps are fourth in the Eastlink North Division at 15-11-1-0 (won-lost-overtime losses-shootout losses), but are just one point out of second place behind both the Tigers (15-11-2-0) and Miramichi Timberwolves (14-10-2-2).
“Any of these points in the next few games are big points for us, especially the divisional rivals like Campbellton,” acknowledged Caps head coach Billy McGuigan. “It’s a very important game for us, and may be the biggest of the season.”
Despite playing short-staffed on most nights the first half, the Caps have found a way to stay in the hunt for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“I couldn’t be more proud of a group that I’ve coached,” said McGuigan. “The determination and resiliency of this group in the first half was something to watch. Certain days I stood back and watched the kids going at it.
“We are probably the youngest team in the league, we are dealing with nine forwards and four D most days, and we just found a way to stay in the mix, and finished the first half one point out of second. The second half is a very important half for us, and I think we can be second.”
Key point of schedule
The Caps, who won nine of their last 12 games before Christmas, are entering a key point in the schedule as they begin a five-game homestand, and will play seven of eight and 10 of their next 14 games at Eastlink Arena.
“It’s a very favourable schedule, and I think we can take advantage of that as well,” said McGuigan.
As for the matchup against the Tigers, McGuigan said he wants the Caps to keep moving the puck forward and playing a pesky style.
“We just want to use our speed,” added McGuigan. “I don’t think we will try any high-risk plays, just get pucks in behind their D.”
McGuigan noted the Tigers are a tough team to play against.
“They don’t produce a lot of offence so to speak,” continued McGuigan. “They follow good structure, they are well coached and they don’t have big guns, but they have a couple of real solid D that carries the mail for them and their goaltending is pretty solid as well.
“They are a tough team to play against. They kind of stick around, stick around and then they bite you in the back.”
McGuigan said Rett Rook, who has a 4.35 goals-against average (GAA) and .870 save percentage in 11 games, is expected to start in goal for the Caps.
With Dominik Tmej, who posted four shutouts, a 1.71 goals-against average and .950 save percentage in 10 games with the Caps, currently with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, McGuigan said the Caps hope to announce a trade for a goaltender when the trading period opens in early January.
Western Capitals’ game notes:
The Caps and Campbellton Tigers have split their first two regular-season meetings. The Caps won 4-1 in Summerside on Oct. 5, and the Tigers prevailed 5-4 in Campbellton on Dec. 10.
Caps forward TJ Shea of Anglo/Tignish leads the MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) in scoring with 60 points – 25 goals and 35 assists – in 27 regular-season games. Shea has recorded 53 of those points during a 21-game point streak that he will look to extend on Saturday.
Caps forward and Summerside native Brodie MacArthur, who has been playing on a line with Shea and rookie Cameron Roberts of Kensington has recorded at least a point in 13 straight games, and has 27 points during this stretch.
Forward Coleton Perry of North Bedeque is in his rookie season with the Tigers. Perry, who played the last two years with the Kensington Monaghan Farms Wild of the New Brunswick/P.E.I. Major Midget Hockey League, has two goals and six assists for eight points in 27 contests.
The Capitals will host the Amherst Ramblers in a New Year’s Day matinee on Monday. Puck drop at Eastlink Arena is scheduled for 2 p.m.