SUMMERSIDE – The red-hot Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals are entering an important part of the MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) schedule.
The Capitals will play 17 of their next 18 games against EastLink North Division teams, beginning Friday night on the road against the St. Stephen Aces. Five of these first six games are against either the Aces or Edmundston Blizzard, who visits Summerside for a 7 p.m. start on Saturday.
“They are massive games,” said Caps head coach Billy McGuigan referring to the four points at stake this weekend. “They are division rivals, they are tough games to play in and they are going to be like playoffs. . .
“We are looking to build on our momentum and try to get two points Friday, and try to get two more on Saturday. It’s always nice to play at home.”
To illustrate the importance of these games, the division-leading Capitals, who are 6-2-0, are two points ahead of the Blizzard (5-4-0) and three up on the Aces (4-4-1).
“We are looking to have a couple of good efforts against some good teams,” said forward Sam Meisenheimer, who made his Caps’ debut in Saturday’s 4-2 home-ice victory over the nationally-ranked Yarmouth Mariners (9-1-1).
Ironically, the Caps’ last loss came against the Aces on Sept. 21 – a game McGuigan has not forgotten about.
“It’s going to be a big game for us Friday night in St. Stephen,” said McGuigan. “The last time we were up there as a coach I was half embarrassed with the way we played.
“We didn’t play with very good structure, got behind early. . . Again, our big guys pulled us back into the game and we ended up scoring six goals, losing 9-6, which is not indicative of how we play.
“On that night we struggled early in the game and found a little bit of a rhythm, but we just couldn’t keep the puck out of our net. I think they are going to see a different team this Friday night, and we are going to be prepared and ready to go against St. Stephen. It’s one we want back, it’s a game on the road and it’s a long drive. We will be prepared off the start this time.”
The Caps, who have scored 42 goals in eight regular-season contests, enter weekend play on a five-game winning streak. What are McGuigan’s thoughts on the team’s play during this stretch?
“We have obviously found a way in each game, but there have been points in each game where we have had lulls that I didn’t like by our team,” answered McGuigan. “Overall, we have responded well each and every time we have been down, or given up a goal.
“We are playing good as a team, our structure has been good for the most part.
“The first period of the Pictou (County) game (a 7-4 win Tuesday) I didn’t like the structure of our team at all, but we made some adjustments and figured it out the second part of the game. We are a team that if we can settle in, be a little more patient, play a little better defensively, we are going to be hard to beat because we can certainly score goals.”
It hasn’t taken Meisenheimer long to make an impact. The former Charlottetown Islander has four points, including two goals, in his first three games with the Caps.
“He’s got skill and has ability, and seems to be fitting in well with the guys,” said McGuigan in assessing Meisenheimer, who was born in Viking, Alta., but his hometown is Ottawa. “He scored some elite-level goals on the weekend. We are real happy to have him.
“He gives us a good dimension on that second line where he’s a top-six forward, he’s able to contribute offensively and he’s good on the penalty kill as well. He’s going to be a big player for us.”
When asked his initial thoughts on the Caps, Meisenheimer offered: “The team has a really good core group. It seems like a pretty tight-knit group.
“The team was doing good before (I arrived), and I just want to come in and try to play my game and do whatever I can to help us get to the next level.”
Meisenheimer played the last two games on a line with veteran Kallum Muirhead of Charlottetown and rookie Marc Richard of Clinton. Based on their success – combining for 12 points – McGuigan says they will remain together this weekend.
“Sometimes it’s tough early on getting used to your linemates’ tendencies and getting used to playing with each other,” acknowledged Meisenheimer. “We’ve clicked pretty quick as a line, and we’ve been able to score a few (five) goals.”