CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Daniel Hardie scored twice, including the game winner, and Matthew Welsh stood on his head Friday as the Charlottetown Islanders defeated the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles 4-2 to start the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) regular season.
“It feels good obviously to contribute,” Hardie said. “A huge part of our win tonight is Welshy in net. He stands on his head and gives us a chance to win every game.”
But the veteran left-winger said the team has to clean up its play and provide more protection for Welsh, who was left hung out to dry too often during the game as turnovers caused odd-man rushes the other way.
“There’s no sense in apologizing for having a great goalie, but without Matty in the first half of the game we would have been in a lot of trouble,” head coach Jim Hulton said. “Credit to our guys. (They) stuck with it and found a way.”
Cape Breton moved the puck well and held a big shot advantage early as Charlottetown missed the net on a few chances.
“There’s a lot of areas we’re going to have to clean up,” Hulton acknowledged. “We didn't establish a forecheck early and there was just way too much open ice for Cape and they were flying.”
Former Islanders first-round pick Mitchell Balmas tied it nine minutes into the second period when he wired a wrist shot past Welsh, his former teammate, on an odd-man rush.
Egor Sokolov gave the visitors a 2-1 lead 4:24 into the third after an Isles giveaway.
“It’s an enormous learning curve for the young defencemen,” Hulton said, referring to five blue-liners playing their first QMJHL game for the Isles on Friday. “It was baptism by fire.”
Hardie tied it less than four minutes later after Sullivan Sparkes caused a turnover at the Cape Breton blue-line and Keith Getson found Hardie all alone in front of Cape Breton goalie Kevin Mandolese.
Hardie scored the winner at 13:45 by burying a rebound off a Brendon Clavelle shot after Sparkes blocked a shot in his own zone to create an odd-man rush.
“Sparky is a workhorse for us,” Hardie said. “He gets the puck back a lot and makes a lot of good plays – little subtle plays.”
Nikita Alexandrov scored an insurance marker on the power play when Derek Gentile found him alone in the slot with 4:10 to play.
The Islanders host the Halifax Mooseheads Saturday at 7 p.m. The Herd defeated the Saint John Sea Dogs 5-4 in overtime Friday in Saint John, N.B. They are still missing a handful of players at NHL camp. The Isles are without captain Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Hunter Drew, both defencemen. Getson wore the C in Friday’s opener while Clavelle and Brett Budgell were assistants.
Forwards Kevin Gursoy and Xavier Fortin as well as goalie Dakota Lund-Cornish will all play Saturday. Lund-Cornish did get into Friday’s game for 38 seconds after Welsh came to the bench following an Isles goal. It forced Hulton to either call a timeout or make the goalie change. Lund-Cornish stopped the only shot he faced before the next stoppage of play.
A look at the Charlottetown Islanders-Cape Breton Screaming Eagles game Friday night at the Eastlink Centre.
Cape Breton – 2.
Charlottetown – 4.
Cape Breton – Mitchell Balmas and Egor Sokolov.
Charlottetown – Daniel Hardie 2, Zachary Beauregard and Nikita Alexandrov.
Cape Breton – Mathias Laferriere.
Charlottetown – Sullivan Sparkes 2, Keith Getson, Brendon Clavell and Derek Gentile.
Cape Breton – Kevin Mandolese, 26 saves on 30 shots.
Charlottetown – Matthew Welsh, 33 saves on 35 shots in 59:22; Dakota Lund-Cornish, one save on one shot in 0:38.
Cape Breton – 0-for-2.
Charlottetown – 1-for-3.
Cape Breton – 26.
Charlottetown – 33.
1. Matthew Welsh, Charlottetown.
2. Daniel Hardie, Charlottetown.
3. Egor Sokolov, Cape Breton.
Attendance – 3,010.