CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – It’s not all smoke and mirrors, some skill went into the Charlottetown Islanders 13 wins.
But it didn’t look that way early for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League club, thanks to its creaky 1-6 start.
Teams outscored the Islanders 22-11 in that stretch. Linchpins Pascal Aquin (suspension) and Gregor MacLeod (injury) were out, youngsters were adjusting to QMJHL life and things were not looking bright.
But something happened after a 6-5 overtime loss to the Quebec Remparts at Eastlink Centre as Charlottetown found its mojo and rolled off seven straight wins. Now it’s 8-2 in its last 10 games, including sweeping a three-game-in-three-night road trip in Quebec, and one of the hottest teams in the circuit.
MacLeod had a couple of ideas why the turnaround after a recent Islanders practice.
“Chemistry, coming together as a team, coming together in practice,” said MacLeod, who’s missed 12 games with various ailments. “I knew the team would be a lot different than last year, but we knew that if players bought in and did their jobs, we’d be successful.”
The Islanders have a chance for more success when it hosts the Maritimes Division-leading Halifax Mooseheads (14-7-3) tonight at the Eastlink Centre. Game time is 7 p.m.
Last year’s team included veteran offensive high-fliers Daniel Sprong, Francois Beauchemin, Kameron Kielly, Alex Dostie and Filip Chlapik, who combined for a whopping 175 goals.
They graduated, and players like Getson, MacLeod, new captain Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Aquin and Matthew Grouchy took up the cause for a more defensive-minded team.
And the plan’s worked, despite Charlottetown being tied for a third worst 69 goals-for. It scores by committee. Getson leads the team with nine goals and defenceman Saku Vesterinen leads the squad with 19 points.
But the defence has been as advertised, allowing a stingy fourth overall best 67 goals-against. That’s up there with league leaders Blainville-Boisbriand and Rouyn-Noranda, each with 65 goals-against, and better than second-overall Quebec (75 goals-against).
MacLeod credits the mindset to fierce practices that resulted from younger players competing for ice time available because of injuries, suspensions and not having high-end skaters eating up minutes.
“I think that with the veterans out it gave a lot of the younger guys fire. They competed for spots and it made the team better when we came back,” he said.
The next big challenge is the next month’s looming trade period where teams re-make themselves for a playoff run or a rebuild. Ninth overall Charlottetown can’t get more middle of the pack, so it’s a crapshoot as to route the team chooses.
Regardless, the 19-year-old centre isn’t worried about what’s to come.
“That’s not up to me. Whatever happen happens.”
On Sunday, Charlottetown faces the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in Cape Breton. Game time is 4 p.m.
Need to know
A quick look at the Halifax Mooseheads-Charlottetown Islanders season series.
Record – Halifax leads 3-0, (1-0 in Charlottetown, one shutout)
Goals-For Goals-Against - Halifax leads 12-4.
Power Play - Halifax: 1-for-14, 7 per cent; Charlottetown: 1-for-15, 6 per cent.
Shots - Halifax: 93; Charlottetown: 93.
Hits - Halifax: 40; Charlottetown: 39.
Faceoffs Won - Halifax: 102; Charlottetown: 101