It's been a few days since the last blog, but there are a number of current issues to talk about, and I decided to wait until they were all pretty much equal in relevance to talk about them.
First and foremost is the upcoming weekend set at C200 vs Lewiston. This is easily the most highly-anticipated weekend of the regular season for the Eagles! Today's Cape Breton Post reported that Saturday's game is already just a few hundred tickets short of a sellout, and that over 3200 tickets have been sold for Friday night's game. There are a great many reasons why:
(1) The games are a battle between two of the best teams in the QMJHL, and pit the Eagles against a Lewiston MAINEiacs team that leads the East Division standings. It's a great opportunity to gauge how the Eagles, an aspiring contender, stack up against possibly the strongest foe in the league.
(2) The games mark the very much-anticipated home ice debut of Luc Bourdon in a Cape Breton uniform. Scores of fans who saw his play at the World Juniors will turn out to see him alone.
(3) Barring a playoff matchup between the two teams, there is a very good chance (unless he returns to the league as a 20 year old next year, but I doubt he will) that the games will be the last two in Cape Breton for Eskasoni native Chad Denny of the MAINEiacs. This should result in a great number of fans from the reservation to make the trek to C200 to see their hometown hero play here for one last time.
(4) Saturday night's game will be Timbit Night at C200, coinciding with the annual Timbit Jamboree the next day. Hundreds of young Timbit hockey players from all around the island will be in attendance.
(5) About sixty seats are spoken for by a couple of busloads of MAINEiac fans making the very long trip up from Lewiston to see their team play. Be sure to treat these folks with the Cape Breton hospitality we are known for; even though they are cheering the enemy, they are our guests!
As for the games themselves:
The Lewiston MAINEiacs play a stifling, defensive style of hockey, and the Screaming Eagles have been having trouble scoring as of late as it is. They will have to come out flying and find a way to penetrate the smothering Lewiston defence. They will need to be first to more pucks than their opponents, and grind them into the ice with hard work. Lewiston also possesses one of the top goalies in the league in Jonathan Bernier, and while they aren't what you'd call an "offensive juggernaut" and don't have any huge offensive superstars, they roll the most balanced four lines in the league; any of their lines can score at any time. They score by committee.
The Eagles will need to regain their scoring touch, both even strength and on the powerplay. They will need to find some real on-ice chemistry that was lacking during their recent four-game road trip. Some key members of the team have been slumping over the past four games, and will need to rebound this weekend in a big way if we are going to beat these guys. Lastly, and most importantly, the team needs Ondrej Pavelec (who I expect to start both games) to come up big in goal. He played fantastic in the two games in Moncton earlier this week, and if he can play anything like he did in those games, Lewiston could be in for some headaches.
How do the new-look Eagles stack up against a top contender? Find out this weekend by making the trip down to C200 and being part of two packed houses.
I'd like to briefly comment on the recent road trip. Obviously, it was quite disappointing for the Eagles. They lost three out of four games. In three of the four games, they scored just one goal or less. The powerplay struggled mightily. The team looked lost and seemed to have little on-ice chemistry. An entire scoring line went completely dry. The new additions did not overly impress. It was a bad road trip, there is no denying it. The team looked awful.
As bad as things were this past road trip, it was still just four games, and it was still just one road trip. Over the course of a 70-game season, that isn't the end of the world. Most importantly, it is essential to keep in mind that there is almost always an awkward "adjusting period" for the first few games after a team brings a few key new bodies into the lineup. It takes a while for everybody to get used to one another, and for new additions to get used to the team's systems. It takes a while for the guys to know what each other will do out there on the ice. Timing and chemistry need to be re-established. Some players have to adjust to new roles. While three losses in four games is still a disappointing and poor result, such an awkward period of adjustment was to be expected. The hope is that four games should be about enough time for players to work some of the kinks out, and that the few days off between games that the team is enjoying right now should be enough time for coaching staff and players alike to sit back and think about what was done wrong on the road trip and what can be done to correct the problems. When you play four games in five nights, there isn't really much time for such reflection. Before anybody panics and suggests that the moves made were a mistake, let's wait and see how the team comes out at home against a real strong opponent this weekend.
The last thing I'll say about this topic is this: In 2001-2002, the Eagles had a strong team and made a few deadline deals to add players such as David Cloutier and JF Dufort. Just like this year, the new additions didn't just seamlessly fit into our lineup. There were struggles in the first few games after they arrived. In fact, the team went winless in their first five games after making those trades, including three losses in a row. People were questioning the trades and wondering if the team had actually gotten worse. But after those first five games, the team went on a tear. They finished the season out on an eleven-game unbeaten streak, and then embarked on the club's best playoff run to date.
The recent road trip sucked, no doubt about it, but give this team a little bit of time to gel.
Finally, Friday night will be an important night at C200 for reasons other than just the hockey game. The Eagles organization has declared Friday night's game to be Support The Troops night, and asks fans to wear red to show support for our troops over in Afghanistan. This was done last Friday night in Prince Edward Island at the Rocket-Eagles game, and was a resounding success. Tons of people turned out, and the vast majority were decked out in red to show the brave young men and women overseas that we care. Let us follow Charlottetown's lead and turn the C200 seating area into a sea of red on Friday night.