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Preview: Cape Breton Screaming Eagles open QMJHL playoffs against Charlottetown Islanders

Kevin Mandolese of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, middle, makes a save on Sullivan Sparkes of the Charlottetown Islanders, right, as Cole Edwards of the Islanders looks for the rebound during a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game earlier this month in Sydney. The Screaming Eagles and the Islanders will open league playoffs against each other on Friday in Charlottetown, P.E.I. Jeremy Fraser/Cape Breton Post
Kevin Mandolese of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, middle, makes a save on Sullivan Sparkes of the Charlottetown Islanders, right, as Cole Edwards of the Islanders looks for the rebound during a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game earlier this month in Sydney. The Screaming Eagles and the Islanders will open league playoffs against each other on Friday in Charlottetown, P.E.I. Jeremy Fraser/Cape Breton Post - Jeremy Fraser
SYDNEY, N.S. —

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles goaltender Kevin Mandolese is familiar with the Charlottetown Islanders.

The 18-year-old Ottawa Senators prospect appeared in seven of the Screaming Eagles nine games against the Islanders this season, posting a 3-2-1-1 record.

Along with facing the conference rival numerous times during the 2017-18 season, Mandolese also played in two games against Charlottetown during the second round of the 2017 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs, a series that saw the Islanders sweep the Screaming Eagles in four straight games.

Although Mandolese doesn’t think much about the 2017 playoffs, the Blainville, Que., product believes he’s improved since that series.

“I think we learn from a loss and also from each game we play in the playoffs,” said Mandolese, who was drafted by the Screaming Eagles in the first round of the 2016 QMJHL Entry Draft in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

“I’ve matured since then and this is going to be my third playoffs, so I’m looking forward to the first game — I have to focus on one game at a time.”

The Screaming Eagles (40-22-1-5) and Islanders (40-21-4-3) will meet in the opening round of the 2019 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs, starting today at 7:30 p.m. at the Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown.

Charlottetown won five of nine games against Cape Breton this season, taking the last two contests — 5-4 in a shootout and 3-1 — earlier this month in Sydney.

The Screaming Eagles are 2-2-1-0 in Charlottetown this season and 2-1-0-1 against the Islanders on home ice in Sydney. Both teams scored 26 goals against each other in nine games.

Mandolese gained more experience in the playoffs last season, appearing in all five games against the Drummondville Voltigeurs, who eliminated the Screaming Eagles from President Cup contention in the first round.

“It definitely helps,” said Mandolese of carrying the playoff workload last season. “We know Charlottetown has a really fast team, they like to skate and they’re intense, so it’s going to be a good series.”

Eight players on this year’s Cape Breton and Charlottetown rosters were part of the 2017 playoff series between the two teams. Mandolese, Declan Smith, Olivier Bourrett, Mathias Laferrière, Adam McCormick and Leon Gawanke were members of the Screaming Eagles, while Hunter Drew and Matthew Welsh were part of the Islanders club.

Screaming Eagles head coach and general manager Marc-André Dumont doesn’t consider this year’s playoff series a rematch.

“Every year is so different in junior hockey, so that series isn’t really a factor,” said Dumont, who coached with Islanders head coach Jim Hulton at the 2019 IIHF world junior hockey championship in Vancouver, B.C.

“They had a different group of players and we had a different group of players, so you can’t really call that a rematch like it would be in the NHL.”

Cape Breton enters the series led offensively by Mitchell Balmas, who posted career highs in goals (43), assists (39) and points (82) in 64 games this season. Laferrière finished the year with 28 goals and 74 points while Gawanke and Egor Sokolov each posted 57 points.

Charlottetown’s offence is powered by 20-year-old Daniel Hardie who had career highs in goals (34), assists (44) and points (78) in 68 games. Nikita Alexandrov recorded 27 goals and 61 points and Hunter Drew notched 15 goals and 50 points.

“It’s going to be a real battle,” said Dumont. “The stats are an indication that this is going to be a very tight series. It’s two teams that are playing very good hockey right now, so it’s going to be an interesting series.”

Cape Breton will get a boost to its lineup on Friday night as captain Declan Smith will return to action after missing the last eight games with an upper-body injury. Shawn Boudrias returned to the Screaming Eagles lineup last weekend against Acadie-Bathurst after missing six games with an upper-body injury.

Defenceman Antoine Crête-Belzile has missed the last nine games with an upper-body injury. The 19-year-old remains listed as day-to-day. Dumont said Crête-Belzile has been on the ice and has practised with the team recently.

The Screaming Eagles are also dealing with some illness. Laferrière, Derek Gentile and Adam McCormick are listed as day-to-day with the flu, however Dumont said Gentile and McCormick practised on Wednesday while Laferrière was at the rink for the first time since getting sick after last weekend’s games.

The Islanders — for the most part — are healthy. Forward William Sirman has an upper-body injury and is listed as day-to-day.

Game 2 of the series is slated for Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Charlottetown. Game 3 and 4 will be played Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively at Centre 200 in Sydney.

COVERAGE
• The Cape Breton Post will provide coverage of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles playoffs in print and online at www.capebretonpost.com. Follow Post reporter Jeremy Fraser on Twitter by following @CBPost_Jeremy.

SCHEDULE
• Game 1 – Today, 7:30 p.m., Cape Breton @ Charlottetown
• Game 2 – Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Cape Breton @ Charlottetown
• Game 3 – Tuesday, 7 p.m., Charlottetown @ Cape Breton
• Game 4 – Wednesday, 7 p.m., Charlottetown @ Cape Breton
• Game 5 – March 29, 7:30 p.m., Cape Breton @ Charlottetown*
• Game 6 – March 31, 7 p.m., Charlottetown @ Cape Breton* 
• Game 7 – April 2, 7:30 p.m., Cape Breton @ Charlottetown*
(*If necessary)

2018-19 SEASON SERIES
Charlottetown vs. Cape Breton
• Sept. 21– Charlottetown 4, Cape Breton 2
• Sept. 29 – Cape Breton 3, Charlottetown 1
• Nov. 24 – Charlottetown 3, Cape Breton 2 (OT)
• Jan. 5 – Charlottetown 3, Cape Breton 1
• Jan. 9 – Cape Breton 6, Charlottetown 2
• Jan. 25 – Cape Breton 4, Charlottetown 3 (SO)
• Jan. 26 – Cape Breton 4, Charlottetown 3
• March 8 – Charlottetown 5, Cape Breton 4 (SO)
• March 9 – Charlottetown 3, Cape Breton 1

jeremy.fraser@cbpost.com

Twitter: @CBPost_Jeremy

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