CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Derek Gentile’s first game as a visitor at the Videotron Centre will be a playoff game Saturday afternoon in Quebec City.
“It’s definitely weird playing there for so long. I still have some friends on the other side,” he said before Tuesday’s Charlottetown Islanders practice. “But it is business.”
The Charlottetown Islanders acquired the right-winger from the Quebec Remparts in a Jan. 2 trade for forwards Matthew Grouchy and Gregor MacLeod. The Sydney, N.S., native spent the first 2 ½ seasons of his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League career with the circuit’s marquee club in La belle province.
“It’s going to be the same for the two guys that were here before,” Gentile said. “I think we’re going to be playing with a little extra fire in our bellies, going back to the old stompin’ grounds.”
Islanders head coach Jim Hulton knows the players will be excited to play their former clubs.
“As much as you try to downplay the subplot of the transaction between the two teams, it’s going to play a big part,” he said. “Emotion is a big part of playoffs, and you’re going to add a little bit more because of the three guys involved.”
Game 1 is Saturday with Game 2 going Sunday. Both are 4 p.m. Atlantic starts.
The series swings back to Charlottetown for Games 3 and 4 and 5, if necessary, on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, respectively.
The Islanders had trouble scoring in the first half of the season when they were the league’s biggest surprise. During the trade period, the club looked around at options to boost the offence and found a fit in Quebec, acquiring Gentile and a third-round pick, which it flipped to Shawinigan for overage forward Cam Askew.
Hulton said Gentile had been having a breakout year offensively with 33 points in 37 games. He’s posted 28 in 30 games since joining the Islanders.
“I think he’s played his best hockey with us in the last five games,” said the bench boss, who doubles as the general manager. “It was nice to see him rise up to the challenge here down the stretch.”
After the trades, the Islanders have tried multiple different line combinations looking for chemistry. Rookies Nikita Alexandrov and Brett Budgell gelled immediately, and Gentile has been the most common right-winger for the pair. The trio will start together heading into the post-season.
Hulton said offensive players like to play with guys who play the game the same way and have the hands to finish plays.
“It’s an exciting line for us because it could be together for a couple of seasons,” Hulton said, noting Gentile is the experienced one heading into the playoffs.
“He’s going to have to be the voice of reason on that line. He’s going to have to calm Budgell and Nikita down at times and let them ride on his shoulders.”
Gentile has three goals and an assist in eight playoffs contests in the league but has yet to taste victory. The Remparts were swept in the first round the past two seasons, last year by the Acadie-Bathurst Titan and two years ago by the Gatineau Olympiques.
Gentile believes this season could provide him with his first series win.
“It’s definitely something we’re trying to accomplish,” he said. “Hitting your stride at the right time is so important in this league. You don't want to peak too early, and I don't think we’ve done that.”
Head to head
A looking at the two regular season games between the Charlottetown Islanders and Quebec Remparts
Quebec 6 at Charlottetown 5 OT
Quebec built 4-1 and 5-2 leads before Adam Marsh, Samuel Meisenheimer and Keith Getson scored to tie it and send the game to overtime. Benjamin Gagne had the winner with assists going to Derek Gentile and Jesse Sutton.
Charlottetown 3 at Quebec 2 SO
Sam King and Sullivan Sparkes scored in the shootout for Charlottetown while Isles goalie Matthew Welsh stopped Gentile and Jeremy Laframboise.