Keeper Brett Strba prepares for a shot from Sam Smiley during Thursday’s UPEI Panthers soccer practice.
©Jason Malloy/The Guardian
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.EI. – The UPEI Panthers men’s soccer squad looks to fine-tune its play this weekend as the team prepares for the start of the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) regular season.
The Panthers host the Mulligan Cup starting today with an 8 p.m. contest with crosstown rival Holland College Hurricanes.
UPEI opened it pre-season this week by splitting games in Fredericton, N.B. The Panthers defeated UNB 1-0 and lost 1-0 to McGill.
UPEI head coach Lewis Page has reduced the roster down to a squad of nearly 30 players.
“Now that the players’ selections are kind of done, we need to use these games less for player identification, like we have in the past, and more for getting the team prepared for the first couple of league games,” he said before Thursday’s practice.
The Panthers open the regular season at home on Saturday, Sept. 9, against St. FX before going to Moncton the next day.
“We’re treating these three games as if they were regular season games,” Page said. “We want to try and have a real good idea of our system and our playing personnel by the time that first league game happens.”
The Panthers will finish the weekend with games against the Mount Saint Vincent Mystics on Saturday and Sunday.
Page said the Hurricanes and the Mystics are perennially the top teams in the Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association, and tonight’s game has the added components of the proximity between the two institutions and the familiarity among the players.
“It’s always great to play them,” Page said of the Hurricanes. “Jon Vos runs a great program, and they always have a competitive team and there is a little bit of rivalry between guys.”
Page said he was pleased with the fitness level his players came to camp in.
“The guys have come in in better shape than I think they did last season. The level of intensity has been good,” he said. “We’re going to be a little quicker and a little better than we were last year.”
UPEI went 6-5-1 to finish sixth in the 10-team circuit in the regular season. They lost 3-0 to St. FX in the quarter-final.
The Panthers are in a different spot than they were at this time a year ago when construction of the new turf field had them practising on grass fields and playing the first few regular season games on the road.
“You don't realize how much of a distraction it was until you start this season,” Page said. “You come home and the field’s in great shape and the facility is fantastic.”
The Cup honours Vince Mulligan, who coached UPEI’s men’s soccer and hockey teams throughout the 1980s and ‘90s.
The women’s Panthers begin the Mulligan Cup on Saturday. Look for more on the team in Saturday’s edition of The Guardian.
A look at the UPEI Panthers varsity sports teams’ schedules for this weekend.
8 p.m. – Holland College at UPEI.
11:30 a.m. – UPEI vs. Acadia, Truro invitational.
1 p.m. – UPEI vs. St. FX, Truro invitational.
1 p.m. – Mount Saint Vincent at UPEI.
3 p.m. – Mount Saint Vincent at UPEI.
9 a.m. – Mount Saint Vincent at UPEI.
11 a.m. – Mount Saint Vincent at UPEI.