It should be the first of two dandies tonight at C200, as the Acadie-Bathurst Titan make their first visit of the year to C200 for a two-game weekend mini-series against the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
This will be a really good challenge for the Eagles, who have been playing a lot of games against weaker and mid-pack teams over the past month or so. The Titan aren't far behind Cape Breton in the standings, and always seem to match up well against us and give us tough games. The two teams met for two very intense games in Bathurst back in October, with the Titan taking the first game 5-4 in OT and Cape Breton winning the rematch 8-2. Ever since those two games, I have been looking forward to a chance to see this team at C200. Over the years, the rivalry between these two has been great.
Tonight's game is the first chance for fans to see newcomer Jonathan Laberge, acquired from the Saint John Sea Dogs in exchange for prospect Matthew Stoddard. Laberge is a versatile, two-way center who is good on faceoffs and can score a bit, and should start tonight centering the third line, as long as everyone else is healthy. As for the other two newcomers, Beau Prokopetz won't be in the lineup tonight due to a minor "upper body injury", and fans will have to wait to see the much-hyped Luc Bourdon make his Eagles debut, as he is still home in Shippigan, NB, resting after helping Canada win a gold medal at the World Juniors. He joins the team on Monday.
Tonight's game also marks the return of goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, whose last game with the team was back on December 1st. Pavelec was also away at the World Junior Hockey Championship. He has been back practicing with the team since Tuesday, so I would guess that he will get the start tonight.
The Bathurst Titan boast a couple of very exciting stars that will be a real treat for fans to watch this weekend, in the unbelievable duo of Thomas Beauregard and Mathieu Perreault. Beauregard leads the league in scoring with 94 points, including an absolutely amazing 55 goals. I'm not sure I can ever remember a player in this league over the past ten years or so having 55 goals at this point of the season. This is a guy who, if he keeps it up at his current pace, could become the first QMJHLer since the 1980s to hit 80 goals in a season. Perreault is no slouch either; he is possibly the smartest player in the league, and is one of the very best playmakers. He sits third in league scoring, and was the leader before going away to the Canadian WJC tryout camp, where he missed a few games and fell back a little bit. These guys are possibly the best one-two punch in the league, and they can defeat teams all by themselves. The Eagles will not be able to completely hold them off of the scoresheet this weekend, but if they can keep them reasonably in check, their chances are pretty good, as the rest of the Titan team is just average.
As well, although he is not a superstar like Perreault or Beauregard, it should also be noted that the Titan recently picked up former Eagle Lucas Labelle, and he should be in the lineup for them tonight.
Cape Breton enters this game with a record of 28-13-2 for 58 points, tied for second overall in the league. They sit nine points back of the league and division-leading Lewiston MAINEiacs, but now hold a game in hand on their American rivals. Lewiston plays tonight in St. John's, NL. The Titan are 25-16-1-2 for 53 points, fourth in the East Division.
One concern for the Eagles could be a shortage in bodies on the blueline. With Mark Barberio gone and with Bourdon and Prokopetz not ready to play yet, the Eagles go into this weekend's games with only five natural defencemen. Whether or not they'll just go with the five defencemen they have or maybe drop Robert Slaney back on the blueline as they've done earlier in the year, I don't know. Hopefully this doesn't pose too huge a problem against the very high-flying Titan.
All in all, with the traditional rivalry and intensity between the Eagles and Bathurst, the debut of Jonathan Laberge, the return of Ondrej Pavelec, and the opportunity to see two of the league's most exciting players in Thomas Beauregard and Mathieu Perreault, there are plenty of reasons for fans to be excited about tonight's game.
A reminder to fans that tickets to both games this weekend are being offered as a special reduced rate package if they are bought together. Save some money and see a great weekend series between two long-time rivals!