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The Cape Breton Eagles organization have a lot to be proud of this season, despite the unforeseen ending to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The success of the Sydney-based franchise goes beyond the wins and loss column, although the team didn’t fair off badly in that department either this season.
Cape Breton finished the regular season in third place in the Eastern Conference with a 40-20-2-1 record and 83 points.
Along with the conference, the club also finished fifth overall in the league standings, the third-highest ranking in franchise history, only behind the 2003-04 (second overall) and 2006-07 (third overall) teams.
For the first time since 2008-09 and 2009-10, the Eagles posted back-to-back 40-plus win seasons. It’s only the second time this has happened since the league went to its 68-game regular-season schedule in 2008-09.
The 2019-20 edition of the Eagles finished the campaign tied for the fifth-most team wins in a season. The most wins in one season came during the 2003-04 season — a 70-game schedule — when they recorded 49 victories.
“We’re satisfied with our performance, we’re satisfied where we sit in the standings,” said Eagles general manager Jacques Carrière. “We were in and out of the Canadian Hockey League Top 10 for most of the season, we had some awesome stretches and we showed a lot of character.”
Cape Breton Eagles 2019-20 regular season:
- Posted a 40-20-2-1 record, good for 83 points
- Finished fifth overall in the QMJHL standings and third overall in the Eastern Conference
- Recorded back-to-back 40-plus win seasons for the first time since 2008-09 and 2009-10.
- Broke a team record for most consecutive wins on home ice (12)
- Had the fewest power-play opportunities in team history (211)
- Had the fifth-best penalty kill in team history, working at 82.40
- Had the second-fewest penalties in team history (742)
- Finished the year tied for the fifth-most wins in one season in team history (40)
Meanwhile, the Eagles broke a team-record last month for most consecutive wins on home ice (12) when they defeated the Acadie-Bathurst Titan at Centre 200 on Feb. 1.
The team’s penalty kill, which started slowly, finished tied for fifth in team history, ending the year working at 82.40 per cent. The team also posted the second-fewest penalties minutes in team history (742).
Cape Breton’s power play finished the year in seventh place in the QMJHL at 21.3. In fact, the Eagles had the fewest power-play opportunities in team history this season (211).
Despite the success, there were some lows — like every team and every season — the Eagles had players in and out of their lineup for numerous reasons including injury, illness and international events.
Forward Mathias Laferrière missed almost three months with a shoulder injury he suffered during the first game of the regular season on Sept. 21 in Bathurst, N.B.
The team would lose both their goaltenders due to injury during the season. Kevin Mandolese missed all of November with a lower-body injury, while William Grimard suffered an upper-body injury upon Mandolese’s return in December.
“I’ve never seen a team go without their two netminders for such a long period of time,” said Carrière. “Thank God we have some good affiliates and some junior ‘A’ and major midget teams who were good to us to allow us to use Ewan MacDonald, Jack Cashen and Kenzie MacPhail.”
Other notable injuries and illness included forward Cole Fraser missing more than two months with a spleen injury, and Nathan Larose missing a number of games because of sickness.
The 19-year-old Russian had a tremendous season with the Eagles, leading the team in goals (46) and points (92) in 52 games during the regular season.
The undrafted left-winger finished the year as the league’s regular-season scoring champion, while his 92 points were third-best only behind projected top pick at the NHL Entry Draft in June, Alexis Lafrenière of Rimouski, and Alexander Khovanov of Moncton.
Sokolov also had the most game-winning goals (10) in the league.
Along with his success with the Eagles, he also represented Russia at the Canada Russia Series in November and on the country’s national junior team at the World Junior Hockey Championship in the Czech Republic, claiming the silver medal.
Although Sokolov has been passed over in the NHL draft the last two years, that could change this year, despite his age.
Sokolov moved into fifth place on the Eagles all-time leading goal scorers list this season, passing now team assistant coach Chris Culligan as well as Dominic Noël and Phélix Martineau.
The 19-year-old defenceman had a stellar season on the blueline for the Eagles, spending the majority of the year on the team’s top defence pairing with Jarrett Baker and later Xavier Bouchard.
The Woodstock, N.B., product finished the year with three goals and 33 points, but it was his impressive +45 rating that stood out when all was said and done.
In fact, the +45-rating broke three team records during the year. He currently holds the record for best plus/minus in a career with the team (plus-52), as well as the best plus/minus by a defenceman in one season, passing Jean-Claude Sawyer (+40) in 2006-07.
McCormick also holds the team record for best plus/minus in a single season by a player, just passing Culligan’s +44 rating for top spot on the chart.
He’s currently tied with former Eagle Leon Gawanke for second place on the Eagles all-time points by a defenceman list with 121 points. Sawyer has the most points (185) all-time.
He’s one assist shy of hitting the 100-assist mark, which would put him in sole possession of second place on the all-time Eagles assists by a defenceman list.
The Blainville, Que., native finished the regular season with a 26-8-1-0 record along with a 2.33 goals-against-average and a .925 save percentage.
The Ottawa Senators draft pick has developed nicely after being the team’s first-round pick at the 2016 QMJHL Entry Draft. He continues to be better and better every year and was stellar throughout the campaign.
Prior to this season, Mandolese never had a save percentage in the .900s. He ended the year with the best save percentage in the league as well as holding the third-best goals-against-average, behind only Sherbrooke’s Samuel Hlavaj (2.25) and Moncton’s Olivier Rodrigue (2.32).
His save percentage is also the second-best ever recorded by an Eagles goaltender in a single season. The record is held by Ondrej Pavelec with his .929 save percentage during the 2006-07 season.
Mandolese, who’s currently not signed by the Senators, has slowly moved his way up the Eagles all-time rankings for goaltenders.
The 19-year-old is four wins away from tying Olivier Roy for the most games played as an Eagles goaltender. He’s currently tied with Marc-Andre Fleury with 151 contests. He’s also nine wins away from passing Roy for the most wins by an Eagles netminder.
Time will tell if Mandolese returns to Cape Breton for his 20-year-old season in 2020-21.
Other notable feats from the season:
Sydney’s Derek Gentile, who played his final major junior regular season, finishes tied for third for the most shootout goals (5) with William Carrier and teammate Sokolov. He’s also had the fourth-most shots (10) in the shootout in Eagles history.
Czech Republic native Ivan Ivan is in fourth place on the team’s all-time consecutive games without a penalty list. The 17-year-old went 36 games without taking a minor penalty.
The Canadian Hockey League announced Monday the cancellation of its playoffs and Memorial Cup. The cancellation also means the end of the season for the Cape Breton Eagles and the QMJHL.