CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Tenacious, gritty, fast and hard working.
Those are four key ingredients for the UPEI Panthers this season.
They get the first chance to show it tonight when they host Moncton to open the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) men’s hockey regular season. Game time is 7 p.m. at MacLauchlan Arena.
Captain Brent Andrews is looking forward to a return to the identity the team had when he entered the program five years ago.
“Whenever you’re playing on your toes and you’re getting after teams, it’s going to be a lot more of a fun game,” he said.
Andrews is the only one left from the 2014-15 team. Gone from last year’s squad are key cogs in goalies Matt Mahalak and Connor Wilkinson, defenceman Ryan MacKinnon and forwards Darcy Ashley, Marcus Power and R.T. Rice.
“Looking around the room and not seeing those faces any more, it’s obviously a lot different, but the new guys we brought in are fitting in really well,” Andrews said.
“Our recruiting class was top-notch,” added sophomore Kameron Kielly. “I think we can take the next step.”
The Panthers have lost in the first round of the playoffs the last three seasons.
They had an up-and-down season a year ago when injuries resulted in some depleted lineups where young players got more ice time than expected. The squad strung together some wins, including winning six of eight to close out the campaign, but also had a few losing streaks, including dropping seven in a row from mid-October to early November.
McCue said eliminating the highs and lows is extremely important for the squad.
“We’ve kind of had a problem with being consistent in past years, and injuries have played a factor, but that’s no excuse,” he said. “The guys who suit up need to do their job, myself included.”
Head coach Forbes MacPherson said there might be a silver lining to the young players getting so much ice a year ago.
“In the moment, it put us in some pretty tight situations,” he said. “Long term, it gave certain guys the opportunity to play a pile and they collected a lot of minutes. With those minutes comes experience and confidence grows and perhaps now, 12 months later, it sets us up to be possibly deeper.”
The Panthers enter tonight’s home opener after a 10-2 victory over Dalhousie on Saturday. It’s a balancing act between building confidence and being overconfident.
“You have to build on it,” third-year forward Beau McCue said. “We played well, and we deserved that win. You have to find the good things but also keep your head level and your ego small.”
The Panthers travel to Fredericton, N.B., Friday to play the perennial powerhouse UNB Varsity Reds at 7 p.m.
A look at the UPEI Panthers men’s hockey roster.
Number, player Year Hometown
*37 Simon Hofley 3rd Ottawa.
50 Matthew Mancina 2nd Windsor, Ont.
60 Daryl MacCallum 2nd Charlottetown.
2 Alex McQuaid 2nd Meadowbank.
*4 Andrew Picco 1st Marystown, N.L.
5 Olivier Arseneau 2nd Tracadie, N.B.
7 Austin Levi 5th Farmington Hills, Mich.
26 Tanner McCabe 2nd Charlottetown.
29 Bobby Zinkan 3rd Calgary.
*77 Doug Blaisdell 1st Deeborn Heights, Mich.
*86 Owen Headrick 1st Garden River, Ont.
3 Sam Aulie 4th Lumsden, Sask.
8 Cody Payne 3rd Davie, Fla.
9 Brent Andrews 5th Hunter River.
10 Kameron Kielly 2nd Charlottetown.
*11 Luke Kirwan 1st DeWitt, N.Y.
13 Beau McCue 3rd Pasco, Wash.
15 Mitchell Dempsey 3rd Cambridge, Ont.
*17 Nick Shumlanski 1st Tisdale, Sask.
19 Riley Whittingham 3rd Calgary.
20 Chad Labelle 4th Calgary
21 Filip Rydstrom 2nd Stockholm, Sweden
24 Beni Berisha 4th Mississauga, Ont.
33 Gabe Guertler 4th Plantation, Fla.
*46 Troy Lajuenesse 1st Dokis, Ont.
79 Nathan Yetman 2nd Mount Pearl, N.L.
* Indicates first-year Panthers
Head coach Forbes MacPherson.
Assistant coaches Mark Carragher and Andrew Penny.
Goaltender coach Jamie Blanchard.
Video coach Marshall Mayne.
Equipment manager Trevor MacPherson.
Captain Brent Andrews said: “We’re all pretty excited to get going and get the games that means something under our belt.”