“It’s going to be tough, but I’m ready for the challenge and I think our team is ready, too,” the 14-year-old Stratford native said before Monday’s practice.
The Express defeated the Prince County Warriors 4-2 on March 22 to win the best-of-five provincial championship 3-1 and punch their ticket to the five-team Atlantic Major Bantam AAA Hockey Championship.
“We’ll try to carry (the momentum) over,” said Sam MacNeill, a 15-year-old right-winger from Stratford. “It’s pretty exciting. I’ve never got to play (at Atlantics).”
He said it is a special group and they want to have a strong end to the season.
Blue-liner William Proud said the team is looking forward to the opportunity it has earned. The 15-year-old Stratford native said the keys to success would be similar to what got them to this point.
“We’re going to have to be tight in our defensive zone and then bury our chances when we get the puck in the offensive zone,” he said. “There’s lots of great teams here, so we just have to bear down whenever we get the chances.”
Head coach Will Zafiris said the players are excited to play at the Atlantics, noting it is the culmination of a lot of hard work that started in early September.
The goal is simple.
“It’s to play in that final game on Sunday,” Zafiris said. “We’ve played well against these teams that we’ve seen so far this year, and I think we’ve got an opportunity that we can make some noise and get to that championship game.”
The Express, he said, is a fast team that moves the puck well and has forward depth. It received strong goaltending all year from Carter Champion and Caleb Drake with Drake expected to get the start the opener with Fredericton on Thursday.
“We’re playing all the provincial champions and a very tough Mid-Isle team, so it is going to be tough competition, but we like the team we have together,” Zafiris said.
Atlantic Major Bantam AAA Hockey Championship
What – A five-team hockey tournament showcasing the best bantam hockey teams in Atlantic Canada.
Where – APM Centre in Cornwall.
Who – Fredericton Blues (New Brunswick), Eastern Express (P.E.I.), Mid-Isle Matrix (host), ACA Rangers (Sackville/East Hants, Nova Scotia) and Tricom Thunder (Mount Pearl, Newfoundland and Labrador).
1 p.m. – Eastern vs. Fredericton.
4 p.m. – ACA vs. Tricom.
7:30 p.m. – Opening ceremonies.
8 p.m. – Fredericton vs. Mid-Isle.
Regular season point leaders for the Eastern Express.
GP G A Pts.
Isaac Wilson 28 24 20 44
Lucas Parsons 30 17 25 42
Riley MacDougall 30 19 21 40
Reid Peardon 28 22 14 36
Sam MacNeill 29 12 24 36