The UPEI Panthers men’s soccer team knows it will be playing for a national championship in November.
The squad will be hosting the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championship, but is only concentrating on the present, said veteran coach Lewis Page.
“Our conversations every year are all about the process rather than the outcome,” he said Thursday. “Our goal doesn’t change whether we’re hosting or we’re not hosting. Our goal every year is to win a national championship.”
The Panthers begin the quest for their first Atlantic University Sport (AUS) championship since 2002 tonight in Wolfville, N.S. Game time at Acadia University is 7:15 p.m.
The Panthers are coming off a 4-6-3 season in 2013 when they missed the playoffs. Three key players sat out the year in order to keep their final year of eligibility for 2014. Back in the mix are Jared Murphy, Dillon Wight and Logan Dawson.
Not having those players last year meant more time for younger Panthers.
“The amount of playing time and the experience they gained last year makes us stronger as a squad,” Page said. “That experience for us is going to pay real dividends.”
Wight injured his hamstring during Mulligan Cup action against Moncton. The extent of the injury was not known on Thursday.
The Panthers have also added James Mallard, who played at Acadia before setting out last season.
The 28-player roster has been finalized, but the team is only able to dress 18 per game. It means there will be lots of competition to dress and start.
Deciding “those last three or four guys (to dress) . . . is always the most agonizing part of the job,” Page said.
The strategy of a game can change throughout the 90 minutes and Page said the team members have always been good at accepting new roles.
“They are all going towards the same goal,” he said.
Page is entering his 15th season as the Panthers head coach after having served as an assistant from 1995 to 2000. He likes the balance in ages and the makeup of his squad.
“I think we have a very quick, strong team,” he said. “Our physical ability will be a big asset for us this year.”
The team also has plenty of familiarity with a dozen players, and some of the coaching staff, wearing the SoccerStop P.E.I. F.C. colours this summer during the McCain New Brunswick Premier Soccer League. The Island squad won the league with a 13-2-1 record.
Page said the familiarity made the transition in training camp easier.
The AUS defending champs from UNB return many of their players from last season while two of the conference’s traditional powerhouses (Saint Mary’s and Cape Breton) have new coaches this season.
UPEI plays its home opener on Sunday at 3:15 p.m. when Moncton comes to town.
The team is playing more Friday-Sunday games this year compared to the Friday-Saturday schedule.
A look at the roster of the UPEI Panthers men’s soccer team.
A look at the 2013 AUS men’s soccer standings
W L T
UNB 8 2 3
Saint Mary’s 6 3 4
Dalhousie 6 3 4
St. F.X. 6 3 4
Cape Breton 5 4 4
Acadia 5 4 4
Moncton 4 5 4
UPEI 4 6 3
Mount Allison 2 8 3
Memorial 2 10 1
A look at the past 10 AUS men’s soccer champs
2012 Cape Breton
2011 Saint Mary’s
2010 Saint Mary’s
2009 Cape Breton
2007 Cape Breton
2005 Saint Mary’s
2004 Saint Mary’s