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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - The Charlottetown Islanders meet the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles here tonight at 7 p.m. at Eastlink Centre in the second game of a doubleheader, which should indicate what kind of a playoff run we can expect from the home club.
Heading into weekend play, the Islanders were fifth in the Eastern Conference with 58 points, one behind Cape Breton with two games in hand.
Last night, the Islanders paid tribute to the Charlottetown-based P.E.I. Senators, the farm club of the Ottawa Senators who had a short three-year stay (1993-96) here in the capital city. It gave P.E.I. hockey fans a taste of pro hockey for the first time since the professional Maritime Big Four that last operated from 1951-54 with stars like Buck Whitlock, Willie Marshall, Bucko Trainor, Frank Bathgate, Hugh Campbell, Nick Nicolle, Orin Carver and many others.
When the Senators arrived in 1993, they brought with them a young future NHL all-star in Pavol Demitra from Czechoslovakia and he showed flashes of greatness, even at age 18. Pavol lived with P.E.I. Senators chairman of the board Ray Murphy and his wife, Carolyn, and he spoke very little English which would be a problem if he ever got lost in Charlottetown, and he did. Demitra posted three 35-plus goal-scoring seasons with the St. Louis Blues but, sadly, was aboard that Russian plane that crashed in 2011 that took the lives of all members of the Lokomotiv team, including head coach Brad McCrimmon. Demitra, like many of the players, formed lasting friendships with folks in these parts and some of those names that quickly come to mind include Radek Bonk, Darren Rumble, Darcy Simon, Greg Pankewicz and our own Kent Paynter. (See the video portion of this column at www.theguardian.pe.ca for a more humorous Demitra story).
Let's get back to the modern-day Islanders and the Quebec league.
Taking a quick glance at the Q, Baie-Comeau (69 points) and Halifax (67) are 1-2 in the Eastern Conference but the gap between those two and teams like Rimouski (61), Cape Breton, Charlottetown and Moncton (58 points) is not noticeable, which suggests that an upset(s) is believable, but we shall see. In the west, Rouyn-Noranda (79 points) and Drummondville (71) are clearly the best, but that is on paper; there are no playoff guarantees. The Islanders and Cape Breton both have made significant changes to their opening day rosters, but after this weekend, we should know who is the better club.
On the court
The UPEI women’s basketball team is off to Newfoundland and Labrador this weekend with a pair of games against a good Memorial club.
The Panthers, who broke into the elite ranks of AUS last season under then head coach Greg Gould, losing to Acadia in the championship game, have continued where they left off last spring. This year, under new head coach Matt Gamblin, the Panthers have vaulted into first place with an 11-1 record, led most nights by veterans Carolina Del Santo, Jenna Mae Ellsworth, Reese Baxendale and Kimeshia Henry.
The men’s team, under Darryl Glenn, stayed in the playoff hunt with a close 70-67 point victory over Dal last week as fifth-year Milo Sedlarevic sank 27 points while guard Amin Soleman, who had 28 points the previous night, continued his strong play. Glenn has done a good job with a modest roster as the Panthers at 4-8 battle Memorial and Acadia for a playoff spot.
Meanwhile, the Island Storm lost in overtime 137-133 Thursday night and continue their swing into Ontario tonight in London. Two of the Storm's top players, Russell Byrd and hot shooting guard Kareem Canty, did not make the trip because of injuries. Samson Carter bagged 27 points while Tyree White had 23 and Guillaume Boucard 21 in a losing cause. Tyler Scott continued his strong play with 19 points while Robbie Robinson and Alex Campbell sank 15 for the Storm. Akeeem Ellis, who played for P.E.I. last year, had 29 points while seven-footer Derek Hall added 19 for Kitchener.
On the ice
The hockey Panthers conclude a two-game road trip with a game tonight against Dal who are battling Acadia for the final playoff spot.
Last night, UPEI travelled to St. F.X. in an important playoff placing game and, with just six games remaining, the Panthers trailed X by two prior to last night. The Panthers are at home to St. F.X. on Saturday, Feb. 9, the last game on the 30-game schedule and it could decide whether UPEI opens the playoffs on the road or at home.
This and that
Had a chat earlier this week with Brodie O'Keefe and he informed me that the 44th annual Spud Minor Hockey tournament gets underway Thursday, Jan. 31 and runs thru until Sunday. A total of 67 teams will play in the tournament, a hockey project started by Mary and Claude Vaive back in 1975.
In other local hockey news, let's not forget the Pinky Gallant benefit is set for next Friday at Credit Union Place in Summerside. It starts at 5:30 with an auction at 7 p.m.
On the gridiron
The NFL semifinals were extremely exciting but the officiating was absolutely atrocious.
The New Orleans Saints were robbed outright and how anybody could miss such a blatant infraction is hard to imagine. The defender had his back to QB Drew Brees, never watched the ball, and smashed into the receiver with his helmet, head to head, another infraction. Earlier in the quarter, there was another similar play and the officials missed it as well, again costing the Saints. Even the overtime interception, the Brees pass was not touched or deflected; pass interference again.
As for the New England-Kansas City game, replay showed clearly a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty against Kansas City should not have been called, allowing Brady and the Patriots to continue a crucial drive. The best teams are not in the next week’s Super Bowl. Nevertheless, our annual Super Bowl poll should have some interesting comments next Saturday.
On the track
Charlottetown's Wally Hennessey passed the 10,000-win plateau Wednesday night at Pompano Park, Fla. The popular teamster, 62, is just the 17th driver to ever hit that lofty mark for career wins, and he started it right here at the Charlottetown track.
In local harness racing, there’s live racing today at the CDP with a 10-dash card, post time 12:30 p.m. The $2,400 top class goes in Race 9 with the two best, Adkins Hanover and Intended Royalty.
At Mohawk tonight, a number of ex-Maritime regulars like Cartoon Daddy, Keep Coming, Royaltywestho and Woodmere Ceilidh are in to go.
I notice in the Atlantic Post Calls that a second yearling sale is set for this fall and it's a Nova Scotia yearling and mixed sale scheduled for Friday, Oct. 4 at Truro Raceway.
Charlottetown trainer Andrew Moore is all smiles these days as his Shadow Play filly Springbridgevision scored another impressive victory in winning her Blizzard division at Mohawk Raceway Thursday night in 1:55 and change with James MacDonald aboard. Now 3-for-3 in January, the filly is owned by Andrew Moore, Alan Moore, Tom Godfrey and Charles Farrell. MacDonald also won the other Blizzard division with the Blake MacIntosh trained She's On a Roll in 1:57.2.
Fred MacDonald's column appears every Saturday in The Guardian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.