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Peter Schaale and Cory Bent have plenty of experience playing in championship games.
The professional soccer players were members of the Cape Breton Capers men’s team who made back-to-back appearances in the U Sports national championship game, taking home the title in 2017 and winning the silver medal in 2018.
Schaale and Bent will use the experience to their advantage on Saturday, but this time as members of the HFX Wanderers FC.
The Halifax-based team will play for the Canadian Premier League championship — the North Star Shield trophy — when they face defending champion Forge FC of Hamilton, Ont., at UPEI Alumni Field in Charlottetown, P.E.I. Game time is 3 p.m.
“Forge is a really good team and we give them credit for what they’ve done,” said Schaale, when reached by phone Thursday. “I think we’ve been put in the underdog position for the whole tournament and I guess we’re still there today.”
Because of COVID-19, the Canadian Premier League was forced to delay the start of its season. The pandemic also forced the league to create what’s known as “The Island Games,” which features all eight teams in the league playing out of Charlottetown.
The Wanderers, Atlantic Canada’s only professional soccer team, has been in Prince Edward Island for more than a month and have not been allowed to leave their hotel rooms, only for practice and games.
Schaale, a second-year player on the team, said “the bubble” has been positive for the club.
“I think our team has handled it really well and the guys are getting along great,” said Schaale, who was named one of the team’s captains earlier this year. “We’re one big group of friends and that helps on the pitch.”
In the first stage of the tournament, the Wanderers finished in second place with a 3-1-3 record. In group play, the team went 1-1-1 and advanced to the championship game after Forge FC defeated Cavalry FC 1-0 Tuesday afternoon.
Cory Bent, like Schaale played four years at Cape Breton University. He sees similarities between the Wanderers and the Capers in terms of off the pitch.
“We’ve spent a lot of time together in this bubble and it’s a lot like what Peter and I have done with our former teammates with the Capers,” he said. “We spent a lot of time together on campus and you saw the chemistry on the pitch and that’s what’s happening with the Wanderers.”
Bent, an England native who was selected first overall by Halifax at the 2019 CPL-U Sports Draft, admits he never thought he’d be playing for a championship in his first professional campaign.
“It’s more than I personally could have expected,” said Bent. “I had a few goals going into the season and one was to really get some meaningful game time and contribute to the team where I could – I feel like I’ve been able to do that.”
Bent has played his fair share during the 2020 season, being on the pitch for 481 minutes. He scored his first professional goal earlier this month against Valour FC.
Meanwhile, Schaale, a German product, has played 810 minutes on the backend. Although he has no points, he’s currently leading the Wanderers with 375 passes.
Bent understands the importance of Saturday’s game but is treating it as a regular contest.
“It’s an important game, but we’ve played plenty of games in our lifetime and one of those has been national finals,” said Bent. “We’re confident in our abilities, we’ve been pinned the underdog and we’re OK with that.”
Schaale admits he feels the Wanderers club has something special, a feeling he last had when suiting up for Cape Breton in the magical 2017 season.
“There’s always something special about teams you have success with, championship teams you can always feel something within the team that every player feels,” said Schaale.
“All season, we’ve stuck together, we’ve grown as a team, we’re one unit and there’s nothing that goes beyond team – we can all feel something here.”
Both Bent and Schaale acknowledged they wouldn’t be where they are today in their careers if it wasn’t for Cape Breton University and the men’s soccer program coaches Deano Morley, Scott Clarke and Vernon O’Quinn.
“Cape Breton is a big part for both of us,” said Schaale. “It’s where we first came to Canada, where we were first welcomed into the country, and it’s a community we’ll always be grateful to.
“They gave us the stepping stone to make it to the next level and we can never forget that – we know the whole island is cheering us on and we want to win for you and all of Atlantic Canada.”
Although spectators will not be permitted to attend the game, due to COVID-19 restrictions in P.E.I., fans will have the opportunity to watch the game on CBC and online at www.canpl.ca.