CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – The Charlottetown Islanders have a chance to measure themselves against the Maritimes Division leaders tonight in Halifax.
Game time is 7 p.m. at Scotiabank Centre.
The Islanders (25-12-2-0) trail the Mooseheads (26-10-4-1) by five points in the standings, but have two games in hand. The teams play Friday in Charlottetown at 7 p.m.
“It’s only just after Christmas, but they’re big points,” right-winger Derek Gentile said after Wednesday’s practice. “It’s so close this year in the standings, every game is so critical.”
The Sydney, N.S., native played the first 2 ½ seasons of his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League career in Quebec City, but is happy to be back in the Maritimes. He said there will be friends and family at tonight’s contest.
“It’s always special, but at the same time it’s not a vacation,” he said. “We’re there to win a hockey game and to get a couple points, so I need to stay on task.”
The game is a chance for the Islanders to show they have improved with the acquisitions made since Christmas.
“I think we got better over the trade period and the guys we picked up are really gelling in this team,” assistant captain Keith Getson said. “Once we really get in a groove, we’re going to be a good team.”
Head coach Jim Hulton said it’s a fun game that they want to win, but it is still the second week of January.
“It’s a fun little challenge, but the world is not going to end if we don't come out successful,” he said. “By the same token it's nice to keep climbing (in the standings) and this group has responded to challenges like that all year.”
The game will see the return to the lineup of 19-year-old defenceman Taylor Egan, who has been out since Nov. 28 with a shoulder injury. The Ottawa native, who has a goal and three assists in 24 games this season, is expected to play with overage blue-liner Olivier Desjardins, his regular partner before the injury.
Hulton said Egan’s skating and ability to move the puck will be a welcome addition to the lineup against a Mooseheads squad with top offensive threats.
“We’re going to have to slow them down. We can’t get into a track meet with them tomorrow night,” he said. “The less time we can spend in our zone the more favourable (the results are) going to be.”
Matthew Welsh gets the start in the Islanders crease in his hometown.
Gentile was paired with rookies Nikita Alexandrov and Brett Budgell Monday against Baie-Comeau in his first game with the Isles since returning from an eye injury sustained while playing with the Remparts.
“It’s weird for me to be the oldest guy on the line,” Gentile said. “It’s the first time it’s ever happened. I’m kind of realizing I am getting old.”
Egan is the Islanders Scholastic player of the month for December while Summerside’s Jeremy McKenna received the award for the Moncton Wildcats. Egan is a business student at UPEI while McKenna is attending Bernice MacNaughton High School.
A look at the Charlottetown Islanders next few games:
7 p.m. – Charlottetown at Halifax.
7 p.m. – Halifax at Charlottetown.
3 p.m. – Charlottetown at Moncton.
Thursday, Jan. 18
8:30 p.m. – Charlottetown at Chicoutimi.
Friday, Jan. 19
8:30 p.m. – Charlottetown at Baie-Comeau.
Sunday, Jan. 21
4 p.m. – Charlottetown at Rimouski.