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SYDNEY, N.S. — It’s been six years since Sydney, N.S., natives Mitchell Balmas and Derek Gentile last played competitive hockey together.
At the time, they were 14- and 13-years-old, respectively, but now the two Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) veterans find themselves reunited as members of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
To acquire the offensively gifted Gentile from the Charlottetown Islanders, the Sydney-based club surrendered 17-year-old defenceman Noah Laaouan Sunday when the QMJHL’s mid-season trade window opened.
The speedy five-foot-eight Gentile last played with Balmas, also a former Islander, on the Breton Sport Cougars during the 2012-13 season. Balmas was team captain and led the team with 64 points, including 33 goals. Gentile succeeded him as captain the next season and surpassed his 14-year-old season totals with 70 points, although his 31 goals were two fewer than Balmas, who it turns out was the one who told his old buddy he had been traded.
“It’s a pretty crazy feeling – it made for a pleasant surprise on my trip home,” said Gentile, who received Balmas’ call while in transit at the Halifax airport. He later received confirmation from the Islanders.
“I’m excited to get on the ice with the guys – Balmer and I were linemates pretty much every year growing up until we went our separate ways and that’s how things go in hockey,” Gentile said.
“Anywhere you go you make friends, so it’s hard to say your goodbyes and see people you care about going off in different directions, but I find the changes to be really exciting, meeting new people and having new experiences.”
Apart from summer, Gentile last spent a winter in Cape Breton when he was 14-years-old in the 2013-2014 season when he was the Nova Scotia bantam league’s leading scorer. And, he knows he’s being brought back to Cape Breton for his offensive abilities.
“I’ve had a lot more assists this season than goals, but I’m hoping to find the touch again when I get back to the Nest. I just hope I can fit in and not disrupt the team because they’ve been playing really well lately,” said Gentile, who was also traded during last season’s mid-term trade period when he was dealt from the Remparts to the Islanders.
“I think I’m an energy guy who plays at a high-pace and I think that really fits well into what the Eagles have doing for the past three or four years in trying to build an identity – I also think my experience, including a long play-off run last season, will help with the team.”
Laaouan’s spot on the blue-line was filled even before the announcement of his trade as the Screaming Eagles landed 18-year-old Nathan Larose and a 2020 third-round draft pick from the Saint John Sea Dogs in exchange for 2018 first-rounder Alex Drover shortly after the trade period began.
With the Screaming Eagles being one of the hottest teams in the league during the past month and with a new president and majority owner in the mix, it’s not surprising to see the franchise make a push for a lengthy playoff run.
And the addition of Gentile gives the squad another established scorer to go along with Balmas, St-Louis Blues draftee Mathias Laferriere, Russian import Egor Sokolov and captain Declan Smith.
Laaouan joins the Islanders after a season and a half in Cape Breton after being drafted in the first round of the 2017 draft.
The Islanders wouldn’t confirm the trade at press time.