Noah Laaouan estimated it has been 2 ½ seasons since he has played a game at 10 a.m.
The Halifax native gets that chance today as the Charlottetown Islanders host the Baie-Comeau Draakar in the team’s second school day game in its history.
“You play in a lot of them in your childhood, growing up playing hockey, so it will take you back a little bit and I think it will be a lot of fun,” the 18-year-old defenceman said before Tuesday’s practice at the Eastlink Centre.
The Islanders defeated the Moncton Wildcats 5-4 in a shootout in last year’s school day game on Dec. 12 with Matthew Welsh earning the win and Charlottetown native Thomas Casey scoring the winner.
Brett Budgell, who scored twice in the 2018 game, said it was definitely different than playing an evening game through the week. Players have to ensure they get a good night’s rest and a good breakfast to fuel them for the game.
“It was a lot of fun,” Budgell recalled. “It’s a great atmosphere, there’s a lot of kids there. It’s really loud.”
ADL, Charlottetown Mall and the City of Charlottetown are sponsoring this year’s sellout game with the tickets going to schools across the province.
Head coach Jim Hulton missed last year’s contest while at Team Canada’s training camp prior to the world junior championship. He said, from talking to people who have been involved with daytime games in the past, the key is to treat it like a normal game in terms of preparation.
“Nobody is used to it, but I think you have fun with it,” he said. “It’s going to be a packed house, it’s going to be a good atmosphere and it’s a unique experience.”
The Islanders (13-7-4-0) host a Drakkar (10-10-4-0) team that has been playing well of late, going 6-2-2-0 in its last 10 games.
Their roster includes Nathan Légaré, Gabriel Fortier, former Cape Breton Eagle Gabriel Proulx and Julien Létourneau up front, defencemen Christopher Merisier-Ortiz and Xavier Bouchard plus Halifax-area goalies Lucas Fitzpatrick and former Islander Dakota Lund-Cornish.
“They have some high-end players,” Hulton said.
The Islanders traded Lund-Cornish to Sherbrooke on Jan. 2 for two draft picks and the Phoenix flipped him to Baie-Comeau for two picks in August.
“He stoned us in here last year,” Hulton said, noting his 37-save performance in a 6-4 win on Feb. 3. “Anytime a former player comes back in, the adrenaline is a little bit higher and the focus is sharper. We know he’s a really, really good goalie.”
The major junior season is long and the daytime game brings the chance to energize a home side looking to build on some recent strong efforts before they head on the road for a trip to Quebec.
“It spices things up a little bit,” Laaouan said. “It’s something to have fun with. Obviously, it’s still an important game for us, but it’s something you don't get to do every day.”
Hulton has liked his team’s effort in recent games and will be looking for more of the same today. One thing he would like to see is the team get back 40 shots on goal and get traffic to the net.
“We’re a believer in meat-and-potatoes, bread-and-butter basics here and we’re starting to get there, so it would be nice to see another step in that direction tomorrow.”
The Islanders play in Sherbrooke on Saturday, Quebec on Sunday and Rimouski on Tuesday.
Welsh gets the start today for an Islanders team that is without defenceman Lukas Cormier and forwards Nikita Alexandrov and Keiran Gallant. Ben Boyd has been called up for today’s game, but is not available for the Quebec road trip.