The Cape Breton Eagles are hoping a lengthy homestand will lead to a reversal of fortunes in what has been a mediocre November.
The Eagles kick off the stretch of five home games Saturday when they host the Baie-Comeau Drakkar before a quick turnaround sees them back on the ice for a Sunday matinee against the high-flying Chicoutimi Saguenéens.
November has certainly not been the best month for the beleaguered Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team that been missing several key players to injury. The Eagles awoke on the first day of the month after a heavy 10-4 loss to the Moncton Wildcats on home ice on Halloween evening. Since then, the team has compiled a 2-3-1-0 record, including two wins and one loss on its recent road trip through central Québec.
However, hockey is all about moving forward and the Eagles will hit the ice against the Drakkar looking to build on their last game, a 5-4 victory over the Victoriaville Tigres last Saturday.
Despite the mixed results of the past half-dozen games, Cape Breton is still considered to be one of the top teams in the Québec Major Junior Hockey League. And, at some point, the injury-plagued squad will hopefully be back at full strength.
St. Louis Blues prospect Mathias Laferrière returned from injury only to fall ill and has yet to fully re-integrate himself back into the squad. But he will. After all, no player likes to be sidelined and he is still under consideration for Canada’s national U-20 team that will vie for the world championship over the Christmas holidays.
Laferrière missed the Eagles' last contest as did goalie Kevin Mandolese, impact defenceman Adam McCormick and power winger Shawn Boudrias. Overage defenceman Antoine Crete-Belzile remains out of the lineup on long-term concussion protocol and forward Cole Fraser has not played since early October.
Still, the Eagles remain a formidable threat, if not a sleeping giant on the QMJHL landscape.
Russian forward Egor Sokolov has emerged as an offensive giant and sits fourth in league scoring with 41 points, including 19 goals, in just 23 games. Linemate Ryan Francis is also among the league’s top scorers. He is tied for eighth place with 36 points in 23 games played.
The statistics also show that a trio of Cape Breton Eagles is among the league’s top +/- players. Defencemen McCormick (+20) and Jarrett Baker (+18), along with forward Felix Lafrance (+17), are all on that list.
In goal, William Grimard has played every game since Mandolese’s last appearance on Oct. 31.
The first test on Cape Breton’s extended homestand is the Drakkar, a team now benefiting from the leadership of former Eagle Gabriel Proulx. Baie-Comeau’s record is around the .500 mark, but with dynamic players like Nathan Legaré, the Drakkar cannot be underestimated.
On Sunday, the Eagles (14-8-1-0) will tangle with Chicoutimi (16-4-2-0), a team also expected to contend for the league championship. The Sagueneéns are a fast-skating squad with a strong offense that includes players like Hendrix Lapierre, former Rouyn-Noranda Huskie Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Vladislav Kotkov.
Cape Breton’s other November home games include a Nov. 27 tilt against the Saint John Sea Dogs, a Nov. 28 game against Shawinigan Cataractes and a homestand-concluding contest against the rival Moncton Wildcats on Dec. 1.