Monday, February 26, 2007

Big challenge tonight for Eagles as red-hot Rocket pay a visit

After returning home from a successful two-win trip to Newfoundland, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles face a stiff challenge tonight against the hottest team in the QMJHL, the PEI Rocket, in the form of a rare Monday night home game.

PEI has been the most improved team in the league from the first half of the season to the second, and are absolutely scorching hot right now; they're 11-1-1-1 in their last fourteen hockey games. They're a deep and talented club at all positions, with especially impressive depth at forward. They will be missing top goal scorer David Laliberte (back on the Island recovering from a hip injury), but we will still have to contend with red hot players like Guillaume Doucet, Geoff Walker, Martin Latal, and Sydney's own Brett Morrison. All of these guys have really been piling up the points lately, and Walker and Morrison have had a lot of success against the Eagles already this season.

This is the eighth and final meeting between the two division rivals this season. The Eagles may hold a 5-2 lead in the season series, but do not be fooled at all by this deceiving stat; most of those games were played in the first half of the season, when the Rocket was just an ordinary hockey club. In the second half, PEI has been one of the very best teams in the league, and looks to enter the playoffs as a solid darkhorse contender.

Speaking of playoffs, there is a reasonably good chance that tonight's game could be a preview of an eventual playoff series. The Eagles currently sit in second place in the East Division standings, and the Rocket sit in third. If the two teams finish the season in those positions, and if they both advance past the playoffs' first round, there is a very good chance they could have a second round date with each other. Tonight will be a great chance to see how the two teams match up against each other.

The big question for the Eagles, winners of both games in Newfoundland last week despite a badly flu-stricken squad, is what their lineup will look like tonight. Have any of the guys who sat out with the flu in Newfoundland recovered enough to play tonight? Have any of the guys who played through the flu on Friday gotten worse? Has the virus spread further still throughout the team, afflicting even more players? Word on tonight's lineup should be available shortly after the conclusion of this morning's practice. It sure would be nice to be able to add James Sheppard back into the lineup, after he missed both games in St. John's. As well, one thing that is pretty much for sure is that Scott Brannon will finally be reinserted into the lineup after missing about a month with a concussion. Once again, any flu-related lineup news will be posted as soon as it is made available after practice.

On the other side of the ice, it was mentioned earlier that the Rocket will be missing top goal scorer Laliberte (44 goals on the season), and they'll also be missing two excellent 16-year-old players in centre Chris Doyle (16 goals) and defenceman Jordon Southorn. Both of those youngsters are away at the Canada Games, representing their respective provinces of PEI and Quebec.

Ondrej Pavelec and Antoine Lafleur should be your goaltenders of record tonight. Also, don't forget that it's a Season Ticket Redemption Night, so any unused season tickets from earlier in the season may be used towards tonight's game!

It's a really good challenge for the Eagles tonight, facing the league's hottest team, and as said before, it could also be a great chance to see how we measure up against a very possible playoff opponent.


Speaking of the Canada Games, tune in to TSN today at 3:30 PM AST to watch Screaming Eagles prospect Evan Watts and Team Nova Scotia take on Team Quebec. Two former Eagle prospects are also going to be playing in this game; Mark Barberio of the Moncton Wildcats is on Team Quebec and Matthew Stoddard of the Saint John Sea Dogs is on Team Nova Scotia.


Don't look now, but the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles currently have the best GAA in the league. All season, the Lewiston MAINEiacs have led in the goals against department by a healthy margin, but the Screaming Eagles have been tightening up defensively and narrowing the gap over the past couple of months. Now, the Eagles have 178 goals against on the season, just two more than Lewiston's 176. The Eagles have played one more game, giving them a goals-against-per-game average of 2.87. Lewiston's GAA is 2.89. If this trend continues, maybe we can see the Eagles pass Lewiston over these final few games of the season for the top goals against in the league.

The additions of Luc Bourdon and Beau Prokopetz to the Eagles' blueline have certainly helped towards this end, as has the much-improved play of goaltender Ondrej Pavelec since he returned from the World Juniors. The fact that Lewiston has been missing #1 goaltender Jonathan Bernier for the past month has also been a factor in Cape Breton narrowing the gap on the MAINEiacs in the race for the best goals against in the league.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Eagles show a ton of character in sweep on Rock in spite of rampant flu bug

It was stated in a recent blog that after a disappointing home stand which saw the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles drop two of three games, what the team could really use was a stiff challenge to right the ship.

They certainly got that on their road trip to Newfoundland this week, in the form of a flu bug that nailed a large chunk of the team.

Captain James Sheppard didn't make the trip due to the flu, and rookies Etienne Breton and JC Gauthier were affected badly enough by their illness that they couldn't suit up for the second game on Friday. Chris Culligan, Brendon MacDonald, Paul McIlveen, and Ondrej Pavelec are among the players said to also be suffering from the effects, but suited up and played through it anyway. To top it off, assistant coaches Mario Durocher and Blair Joseph were also hit so hard by the bug that they stayed in their hotel rooms during Friday night's game.

Add this flu issue to the injuries already trimming down the Eagles' roster (Oskars Bartulis, Jonathan Laberge, and Scott Brannon all missed both games due to injury), and Cape Breton barely had enough healthy bodies to ice a team on Friday night. That, however, did not stop the determined Eagles from taking both games from their Newfoundland rivals, the St. John's Fog Devils. The Eagles held on for a 2-1 win on Thursday night, with rookies Nick MacNeil and Alex Quesnel providing the offence, and scored a 4-1 win on Friday night, with Paul McIlveen leading the way with two goals and an assist despite being under the weather. Cam Fergus also scored in this game, his first goal since returning from a back injury that had kept him out of seven hockey games.

Team defense was great, limiting the Fog Devils to very few scoring chances over the two games. As St. John's-based reporter Robin Short reported in the local newspaper, Ondrej Pavelec "hardly broke a sweat."

With the win, Cape Breton takes seven out of a possible eight points from Mile One Stadium on the season, a huge improvement from the mere one point they picked up in the Fog Devils' barn last year. The Eagles also win the season series 5-3 against the pesky Fog Devils. Their record improves to 41-19-2 overall, and they have won five in a row on the road, a real nice statement by a team whose play away from home had been questioned earlier in the season.

Some more good news last night was that Lewiston lost 8-3 to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, so the Eagles' win brings them to within just two points of the MAINEiacs once again. Lewiston, however, holds two games in hand.

The Eagles are currently stuck in St. John's due to the massive snowfall that area has received of late, and aren't scheduled to get home until later tonight. They'll then have tonight and tomorrow to rest up for their next home game, Monday night against the PEI Rocket. Hopefully that will be enough time for at least some players' flu symptoms to improve, and most importantly, let's hope that the bug doesn't spread any further throughout the team.

Real gutsy win, and the team can for sure head home with their heads held high.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Depleted Eagle roster seeks redemption on the Rock

After a humbling home stand against Saint John and St. John's last week, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles flew to Newfoundland this week for a two-game set against the Fog Devils, tonight and tomorrow night at Mile One Stadium, where they seek to really redeem themselves for their recent surprising losses.

They'll have to do it without a SLEW of key players. Here is an injury/illness update:

- I'll start with the good news because there isn't much of it. Cam Fergus is expected to return to the lineup tonight after a fairly lengthy absence. He made it through practice yesterday, was a little bit stiff from not playing in a while, but is going to give it a go tonight. We welcome back our sniper and hope that the time off the ice allowed him to heal properly.

- Scott Brannon, who most thought would return to the lineup this week in Newfoundland, will not be back until Monday. There is a new league rule that any player suffering a concussion has to sit out a minimum of a precautionary month, and Scott hasn't quite reached a month yet.

- Jonathan Laberge continues to be out of the lineup with injury (shoulder if I'm not mistaken), and isn't expected for another two weeks or so.

- The real bad news for this pair of games in St. John's: captain James Sheppard is really battling the flu, and didn't even make the trip. We are a totally different team with and without Sheppard in the lineup, and we'll have to rework our offense and find a way to win without him. In the last couple of games where the team couldn't seem to get anything going, he was one of the very few players who seemed able to make anything at all work, and now we won't have him for these two games, so other guys are really going to need to step up.

- Oskars Bartulis is listed as "doubtful" for tonight's game, as apparently he has come up with a minor injury.

- Ondrej Pavelec is also apparently feeling a bit under the weather, and his status to start tonight is up in the air. Recall a game in mid-November against the Halifax Mooseheads where Pavelec was given the start despite being really stricken with the flu. He ended up allowing three goals on four or five shots and being pulled, so if he's really sick tonight, maybe he shouldn't play. Other than this possible flu issue, tonight would surely have been Pavelec's start.

As you can see, our forward corps is really depleted for tonight, even with the return of Fergus. I imagine they will reunite the Ouellet-Fergus-McIlveen combo that has really worked well for long stretches this year, and those are three guys that are really going to have to bring it in the absence of Sheppard. I can't really begin to speculate as to what other line combinations will look like, but it looks as though we'll only have one real proven "scoring line". If we're going to win tonight, it may have to be in ugly, dump-it-in/dump-it-out fashion.

Then again, the last few games we went into as extremely heavy favourite, and it did the team no good whatsoever. Perhaps a change in perspective, going into tonight's game with a fair bit of adversity hanging over our heads, will be good for the Eagles.

St. John's is also missing a few key guys, most notably defencemen Luke Gallant and Pat O'Keefe, two of their top minute-munchers. They'll also be without 16 yos Luke Adam and Taylor MacDougall, who are away participating in the Canada Games tournament, and 20 year olds Maxime Chamberland and Tim Spencer are "maybes" for tonight's game. I'm sure the Eagles will once again have to contend with Ilia Ejov in the Fog Devil goal, and will have to find a way to beat him after being repeatedly stoned by him on Sunday.

Game time is 6:30 PM AST, with the pre-game show starting on CJCB AM 1270 at 6:00.


A couple of interesting results around the Q last night.

The PEI Rocket defeated the Moncton Wildcats 6-5 in OT from Charlottetown in a very important matchup standings-wise. With the result, PEI has tied Moncton for third place in the East Division standings, and actually now sits just six points back of the second-place Screaming Eagles. They are 10-1-1-1 in their last 13 games, making them the hottest team in the QMJHL. They're a team for us to watch out for, both in the standings now and in the playoffs later, for sure.

Also, the Shawinigan Cataractes broke a ten-game losing streak when they incredibly came back from a 5-1 second period deficit to beat Baie-Comeau 7-5 last night. Coupled with Rimouski's tough 5-2 loss in Quebec (they led 2-1 early in the third period but just couldn't hang on), the Caratactes have opened up an eight-point lead over Rimouski in the battle for the final playoff spot in the "Telus Division".


With ten games left in the regular season, I figured it's time to look at a few potential team and individual milestones this year's Eagles could eclipse before the campaign is over:

- The team record for goals scored in a season is 286, set by the 2001-2002 edition of the Eagles. This year's team currently sits at 267 goals scored, so they need just 19 goals over their final ten games to break the record. It would also be nice to see the Eagles enjoy their first-ever 300-goal season; they'd need 33 goals over the final ten games for that to happen.

- The team's goals against currently sits at 176.......... by comparison, they gave up just 195 in 2004-2005 (league was lower-scoring back then, as it was prior to the "new rules") and 206 last season. It would be nice if the team could keep the goals against under 200 for the season. The Eagles have really been keeping the goals against down lately.

- The team record for goals scored by a single player in a season is 47 by Ryan Walsh in the Eagles' first season, 97-98. Cam Fergus currently sits at 44 goals, three back of the record.

- The team record for points in a season is held by Dominic Noel, with 105 in 2001-2002. James Sheppard sits at 85 points with ten games remaining, although he won't play in the first two, as stated earlier in the blog. Cam Fergus has 82 points. This record looks like it will be tougher to break by anybody this season.

- The team record for points by a defenceman in one season is 69, set by Mathieu Dumas in 2001-2002. JC Sawyer currently sits at 63 points.

- The best goals for/against differential for a season by an Eagles team is held by the 2003-2004 edition. They had 273 goals for and an impressive 164 goals against, for a differential of +106 on the season. This year's Eagles currently have 267 goals for and 176 against, for a differential of +91, with ten games remaining.

Of course, the "here and now" is a lot more important than the past, and doing well down the stretch/preparing for playoffs is paramount at the moment. I still thought it would be fun to look up those stats from previous years and see how this team could potentially stack up by year's end.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Expansion clubs get the better of veteran Eagles

Ah, the unpredictability of junior hockey.

One weekend, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles go three-for-three on the road, beating a couple of the league's top contenders along the way. The next, they shock their fans by losing two of three home games against the expansion cousin Saint John Sea Dogs and St. John's Fog Devils, continuing a disturbing recent trend of playing down to the level of weaker opposition.

Cape Breton dropped a 2-1 decision to the extremely young Sea Dogs on Thursday night and lost 2-1 to the second-year St. John's Fog Devils on Sunday afternoon. They also came dangerously close to losing to the Sea Dogs again on Friday night, before managing to come up with a big third period and turn an otherwise ugly performance into a 4-1 win.

The Screaming Eagles, near the top of the league in goals scored for most of the season, had an incredibly hard time scoring in these games. Goaltenders Travis Fullerton of the Sea Dogs and Ilja Ejov of the Fog Devils both came into C200 and absolutely stood on their heads, limiting Cape Breton to just six goals on 134 shots for the home stand. If you take away the three-goal third period outburst against an out-of-gas Sea Dog team on Friday night, the Eagles were held to three goals on 118 shots in the other eight periods.

It would be easy to simply write it off, using "The team just ran into hot goaltenders" as an excuse, but it's not quite that simple. The Eagles were not themselves; their chemistry seemed off, they were panicking around the net, and they were making poor shot selections that led to a lot of blocked shots, pucks going wide of the net, and wasted shots right into the goalie's chest. To almost oversimpify it, they simply couldn't score. Despite the large shots on goal advantages the Eagles held in each game (41-14, 44-31, 49-21), you couldn't really say they deserved to win.......... the opposition made their chances count, and Cape Breton didn't. As well, all three games (even the win) saw the opposition come into our rink and get the Eagles away from playing their own game, sucking them into playing theirs.

The powerplay, which struggled even on the three-win road trip of last weekend (1-for-19 on that trip), continued to sputter. The Eagles went just 1-for-21 with the man advantage on the three-game home stand, leaving them at a ghastly 2-for-40 in their last six hockey games. This is the same Eagles team that has thrived on the powerplay for much of the season! On the plus side, Cape Breton's penalty kill was successful 14 times out of 15 on the home stand, and has allowed just two powerplay goals against in 30 enemy powerplay attempts in the last six games.

A lot of the offensive struggles do have to do with the key forwards currently missing from the Eagles' lineup. Cam Fergus and Scott Brannon have been out with injuries for fairly extended periods of time now (Jonathan Laberge also missed the last game and a half of the home stand), and their absences have forced the Eagles to go with makeshift line combinations - impromptu, unproven combinations that have been hit and miss in terms of chemistry. One would hope that things will be a bit back to normal once these injured players return to the lineup, most of them ready to return relatively soon.

With the surprising results of this frustrating home stand, and with Lewiston having won their weekend games, the Eagles now fall all the way back to six points behind the MAINEiacs for first place in the division; they were just two points back as recently as Thursday. Lewiston also continues to hold a game in hand. Cape Breton's hopes of finishing first certainly took quite the hit on this home stand, with the chances of making up six points on the MAINEiacs over the final ten games being rather slim.

Not much else to say about a frustrating trio of hockey games. Stretches like this are not the end of the world, and could very easily be pretty much forgotten by the time the dust settles on the season.......... heck, maybe in a way it's best that the team gets these kinds of games out of the way now rather than have them happen come playoff time. But dropping unnecessary games here and there will likely be the difference between first and second place for the Screaming Eagles this season; 10 of the team's 19 regulation losses have come against teams with sub-.500 records. I know, the President's Cup isn't handed out to the team that finishes first overall in the regular season, but it is frustrating to see the team miss out mostly because of these unnecessary losses to bottom-dwelling teams.

The best medicine to break out of this little funk would likely be a big challenge against a top-of-the-standings team. However, thanks to this year's wonderful Q schedule, next up are two more games against the Fog Devils - Thursday and Friday night from Mile One Centre in St. John's- making it three in a row against the Devils and five in a row against the expansion teams. What a way for a team to gear up for the playoffs down the stretch drive! Excuse my sarcasm.

Although it could be so easy for staleness to set in playing against the same team three games in a row, maybe the Eagles can use their 1-6 all-time record in Newfoundland as a source of motivation for the upcoming two games. Hopefully the few days off between now and the Newfoundland games will be enough for some of our injured forwards to get back into the lineup. There are only ten games left in the regular season, and we need to get everyone back into the lineup to find the proper line combinations with which to start the playoffs.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sea Dogs in town for a pair/upcoming stretch of games/a look at divisional battles across the league

It's been a few days since the last blog; hey, we all needed a bit of time off after that gruelling three-in-three, no? :)

The first topic at hand is obviously the visit by the Saint John Sea Dogs for two games, tonight (Thursday) and Friday night. Hopefully our Eagles are rested up after returning on Monday morning from Lewiston, and getting in a couple of good practices.

The Sea Dogs come into this pair of games with the worst record in the QMJHL, at 15-37-1-2 for 33 points. They are also just 1-8-0-1 in their last ten games. To many observers across the league, including many that will make their way to C200 tonight and tomorrow night, these two games should be easy pickings for the Eagles. However, one would think that both the Eagles and their main core of fans have not yet forgotten a lesson taught to the team by the Rimouski Oceanic just a couple of weekends ago. That lesson, of course, was that if one team shows up wanting the two points more than the other, and goes out and outworks the other, it may very well not matter how far behind in the standings, or how short they are on talent.

The absolute key to these two games is that the Eagles do whatever they can to make sure they don't take the Sea Dogs for granted, that these are actually pretty dangerous games, as a loss tonight or tomorrow night could really deflate this team. The guys have to remember how hard they worked to earn those road victories last weekend, and have to dedicate themselves to applying the same effort against Saint John. These guys are coming into our rink with pretty much nothing to lose, and that in itself makes them a dangerous hockey club.

As well, Sea Dog goaltender Travis Fullerton has stymied the Eagles on a couple of occasions in his QMJHL (last year as a member of the Lewiston MAINEiacs), and sometimes all it takes to really change the outcome of a game is a red hot goaltender. Forward Chris DiDomenico and defenceman Alex Grant have been pretty hot lately for Saint John, and you know that former Eagle Francois Gauthier is going to come into these two games with something to prove. Gauthier has really turned his season around since joining the Sea Dogs; in 18 games with the second-year club, he has 10 goals and 7 assists for 17 points.

On the whole, this entire upcoming stretch of games could be dangerous for the Eagles if they aren't properly prepared for them. Starting with tonight's contest, the team has five straight games against the "expansion teams". After the two straight tonight and tomorrow night with the Sea Dogs, the Eagles host the St. John's Fog Devils on Sunday afternoon, and then travel to the Rock for two more against the Fog Devils next Thursday and Friday. While these games are a good opportunity for Cape Breton to pick up some very important points in the standings, they are also games where upset losses could be very hard on the team's psyche. As well, Eagle clubs have over the years had a nasty trend of playing down to a weaker opponent's level, and five straight games against teams that have been among the weaker five teams in the league most of this season could be a way for the Eagles to develop some bad habits, not exactly what you want with the playoffs right around the corner.

So for those who think this next stretch of games is a great opportunity for the Eagles to cruise to an easy 8-10 points, keep in mind that this is actually a potentially dangerous part of the schedule for Cape Breton, and let's just hope that the Eagles find the best way to handle it.

Game time tonight against the Sea Dogs is the usual 7:00 PM. You would think that they may split the two goaltenders between the two Sea Dog games, and your guess is as good as mine as to which will get the call tonight. As far as the Cape Breton lineup is concerned, it should be similar to the one that finished out the road trip in Lewiston, as long as Cam Fergus didn't reaggravate his injury in that game against the MAINEiacs. The only other guy who played last weekend who may be a bit of a question mark is Spencer Corcoran; he took a high stick to the face in one of the games and went for X-rays to determine any damage. As for Scott Brannon, he has been skating with the team this week, and if all goes well, he should return for the two games in Newfoundland next week.


I'd also like to take an opportunity to have a quick look around the league at the races for playoff positioning that are taking place. There are a number of battles to keep an eye on as we head down the stretch drive.

- First and foremost to us, of course, is the battle for first place in the East Division (and in the league) between the Lewiston MAINEiacs and our Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. As I'm sure you guys know, Lewiston currently leads this race 80 points to 78, and holds a game in hand, but the Eagles have been gaining momentum for last while...... while Lewiston has been sagging. This one should be down to the wire.

Also factoring into this race are the Moncton Wildcats, who sit five points back of the Eagles with 73 points, although they too have been sliding as of late. And if we're making it a race for first overall, you have to include the Val d'or Foreurs (75 points) and Gatineau Olympiques (72 points) from the West.

- Next down the rung in our division is a very interesting battle for third place in the division between Moncton (73 points) and the PEI Rocket (69 points). Moncton has been pretty far ahead of PEI for most of the season, but the Rocket are currently the hottest team in the QMJHL (8-1-1 in last ten games), while as said, Moncton has been sliding a little bit. PEI also holds a game in hand. Don't be surprised if the Rocket pass the Wildcats before too long.

- The following group in our division consists of 5th place Bathurst (62 points), 6th place Halifax (56), and 7th place St. John's (54 points). Bathurst was ahead of PEI for most of this season but seems to have fallen far behind in the battle for home ice advantage in the first round. I personally don't see them rebounding and challenging the Rocket in the standings, and Moncton may be too far ahead for them to catch as well. I also find it pretty interesting how close St. John's has crept up on Halifax.

- The 9th place team from the West Division crosses over into our division as the eighth playoff team. They are then seeded within our division based on their overall point total. For example, if they were 9th in the West but still managed to have more points than the 7th place team in the East, they would be the #7 East seed for the playoffs, and the 7th place team in the East would be seed #8.

Having explained that, you can factor the Shawinigan Cataractes (48 points) into the above race with Halifax and St. John's, although when you're a club that's in a freefall like Shawinigan is, six points may be too much to make up.

You can also add the Rimouski Oceanic to this race, as they still have a chance at catching the Cataractes to be the last playoff team from the West. They have 39 points, nine back of Shawinigan, but also hold two games in hand. Recently, Rimouski really made it look like Shawinigan had something to be worried about, as they went on a six-game winning streak. However, they have lost their last three since, and their chances of making the playoffs are still pretty remote.

This battle for 6-7-8 in the East is one to watch for Eagles fans, as we will most likely end up playing one of these teams in the first round of the playoffs.

- In the West, we have a crazy logjam near the top. It would take far too long to go into all possibilities, so I will cut things short by simply giving my personal views of what the races are.

I consider Val d'or (75 points) and Gatineau (70) to be slugging it out for top spot.

I then see a four-team battle for seeds 3-6 between Quebec (69), Victoriaville (68), Baie-Comeau (66), and Rouyn-Noranda (63). Your guess is as good as mine as to how these six top teams from the West are going to finish.

There is then an intriguing battle for the 7th seed between Chicoutimi (59) and Drummondville (57). Drummondville has two games in hand on the Sags, has been hot lately, and is scheduled to return superstar forward Derick Brassard to the lineup very soon, possibly as soon as Friday night. Of course, if Rouyn-Noranda keeps sliding like they have been since acquiring Mathieu Carle at the trading period, they could very well be caught by Chicoutimi and/or Drummondville.

With so many races going on pretty much all over the league, involving pretty much every team in the league but the Saint John Sea Dogs, the playoff picture still remains pretty cloudy with a month remaining in the regular season.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Eagles make it a three-for-three road trip; make big statement to MAINEiacs with huge win!

Make it a perfect road trip.

After winning the first two games in Shawinigan and Victoriaville, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles made it three-for-three yesterday by beating the Lewiston MAINEiacs 4-1 in their own barn in what may have been the most important game of the season to date.

With the win, the Eagles now sit just TWO points back of Lewiston for first place overall......... the closest we have been to these guys since pretty much the start of the season. A loss in yesterday's game would have meant the gap between the two teams widening to six points. Not only was the win important from a standpoint of gaining two points on the MAINEiacs, but it was also a chance to make a big statement to Lewiston by beating them in three straight games down the stretch, and the Eagles took advantage - big time.

This three-for-three road trip is also a huge confidence-builder for the Eagles in terms of their play on the road. Going into this trip, the team's road record was slightly below .500, and was considered to be one of the few weaknesses on a generally strong team. As well, the Eagles' last road trip was one to forget; I'm sure most of you recall the trip the team made right after the trading period, which saw them win just one out of four games. The Eagles weren't about to have two awful road trips in a row, and made a big statement to themselves on this trip that they can indeed find a way to win under tough circumstances on the road, something that was legitimately in doubt throughout much of the season. Now, the team should have a lot more confidence about their play away from C200 heading down the rest of the stretch, and into the playoffs. You cannot have playoff success without solid play on the road!

In yesterday's game, the first two periods were tight-checking, defensive affairs. Beau Prokopetz came up huge with his first goal as an Eagle late in the first period to stake the Eagles to a 1-0 lead after one. In period two, Dean Ouellet scored on the powerplay to make it 2-0. Cape Breton went up 3-0 when James Sheppard came out of the box just in time to take advantage of a miscommunication between Lewiston goalie Peter Delmas and MAINEiac dman Sebastien Piche. He stole the puck and slid it across to JC Gauthier for a backbreaking goal.

In the third period, however, Lewiston came out flying, and Cape Breton suddenly found themselves on their heels and starting to run out of gas. It was soon apparent that the three games in less than 48 hours were finally starting to get to the Eagles, and they were basically hanging on for dear life to their lead. They were hanging on even harder after Lewiston's Kevin Marshall pinched in and tipped home a Michal Korenko pass to cut the lead to 3-1.

That's when Ondrej Pavelec came up with his finest work of the road trip. From then on, he took over for his tired teammates and shut the door on numerous Lewiston scoring opportunities as the MAINEiacs outshot Cape Breton 18-7 in the final period in a desperate attempt to get back into the game. None of his stops was huger than his penalty shot stop on Dave Taylor at 4:08 of the final frame. A goal there would have made it 3-2, and given Lewiston all the momentum with plenty of time left to tie the game. That penalty shot stop has to rank up there as one of Pavelec's most important saves of the season.

The Eagles managed to hold the fort, with Paul McIlveen icing things with an empty net goal from his own blueline; a bit of a dangerous play that thankfully didn't backfire on us with an icing call against. With the win, Cape Breton improves to 38-17-2 for 78 points, five points ahead of third-place Moncton, and of course two behind first-place Lewiston.

The Screaming Eagles have a much more favourable schedule the rest of the way than does Lewiston, so they are now in the driver's seat in the race for first place. However, a couple of blown games against weaker opponents (like the one against Rimouski) would put the MAINEiacs right back in the driver's seat where they have been all season. Cape Breton has to keep that in mind the rest of the way, and has to make sure to come out as sharp this weekend against the Sea Dogs and Fog Devils as they did on this past road trip! But first, the team will enjoy a well-deserved day or two of rest.

Three-for-three road trip............ I don't think even the most optimistic of Eagle fans expected that. Hats off to the team on a fine accomplishment.


One statistic that really illustrates how well this team has played throughout this season is this:

The top three +/- ratings in the entire league all belong to members of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

Chris Culligan leads the league with a +38 rating.

JC Sawyer is second at +36.

James Sheppard is third at +31, and could be first if not for the fact that he's played 10 and 12 less games than Sawyer and Culligan, respectively.

Culligan and Sheppard are also a lethal penalty-killing duo, and while there are no stats to support it, I really don't know if there is a penalty-killing forward duo in the league that is scored on as seldom as those two guys are.


To FURTHER illustrate what a great week it was for the Eagles, this just in from the QMJHL's official website:

James Sheppard has been named Offensive Player of the Week thanks to his 3G 8A 11PT output in four games this past week. Robert Slaney was also considered for the award thanks to his explosion for 4G 5A 9PTS over the week.

Ondrej Pavelec has been named Defensive Player of the Week. In three games, he earned three wins, and had a 2.00 GAA and .924 save %. He was third star in Victoriaville and first star in Lewiston. JC Sawyer was also considered for the award, thanks to a 1G 4A 5PT week where he also finished with a +5.

Eagles sweep the Offensive and Defensive POW honours, and two other Eagles are considered for the award - further evidence of what a week the Eagles enjoyed!


Amongst all of these positive things, there is always room for improvement.

What jumps out at me right away is the fact that despite the three road wins, the powerplay went a combined 1-for-19 on the road trip.

The powerplay has been struggling for a while now, and has to improve come playoff time. Some fans still grimace thinking about the Eagles' powerplay in the playoffs last year......... which at one point in the postseason was an absolutely ghastly 3-for-50.

Whether it's just a matter of time before the current powerplay combinations start clicking, or whether a bit of a switch-up in the powerplay lineups is necessary, I don't know, and hopefully the coaching staff can figure it out.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Slaney, Sheppard, Culligan lead Eagles to huge win in Victoriaville, while Lewiston looms for tomorrow

The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles came back from a 2-0 first period deficit today to earn a 5-2 win over the Victoriaville Tigres, who as mentioned earlier, entered the game 21-4-1 at home.

This is a huge win for the Eagles, as it puts them at two-for-two on this road trip thus far. Most importantly, it allowed them to keep pace with the Lewiston MAINEiacs heading into tomorrow's crucial matchup. Lewiston won their game tonight against Drummondville, so the Eagles still trail them by four points, with the opportunity to cut the deficit to a mere two with a win tomorrow.

For the second game in a row, the Eagles were paced by the new combination of Chris Culligan, James Sheppard, and Robert Slaney. Culligan had three points (1G 2A), Sheppard had four points (1G 3A, 1st star honours), and Slaney had the biggest game of his Q career to date with two goals and two assists for four points. Slaney now has nine points in his last three games, and has been generally on fire since being placed on that line with Culligan and Sheppard. He has been asked to play many different roles this season, including even a lengthy stint on defence, and has been a workhorse in every one of them, so it's great to see Robert enjoying such success on the scoresheet lately.

Paul McIlveen scored the other goal for the Eagles on a brilliant individual effort, and Ondrej Pavelec earned the win in goal by making 23 stops and being named third star of the game.

Big, big win against a very good team in a very tough place to steal the two points.

Tomorrow's game in Lewiston is absolutely huge and needs no further billing. Win and we're just two points back of them, lose and we fall down to six back. If ever the old cliches about "four point games" are going to apply, it is for games like this one.

We need Pavelec to continue his mastery of the Colisee in Lewiston (he has a huge track record for standing on his head in that building), and it would be great if that Sheppard line could continue its excellent play, along with getting some offensive help from the other forward lines and the powerplay, which has been the team's one glaring weakness on this road trip (0/12 in the last two games).

Peter Delmas should start in goal for the MAINEiacs, as Jonathan Bernier remains out of the lineup with that ankle injury suffered a few weeks back in Halifax. Marc-Andre Cliche, however, is back in Lewiston's lineup after missing the two hockey games played in Cape Breton between the two teams two weekends ago.

From the Cape Breton side of the ice, Cam Fergus may return for tomorrow's game after missing the last four games with a back injury. I'm sure he's hungry to get back at it after watching the last couple of games from the broadcast booth while doing colour on the radio with Ken MacNeil!

It's our team's third game in three days, but with two wins already on this trip, let's hope that the boys running on adrenaline more than they are suffering from fatigue. Tired or not, they know how big this Lewiston game is; they've likely been looking ahead to it all trip. They're going to be ready, Lewiston is going to be ready (and very much wanting revenge for the sweep in CB), and it should be a great hockey game.

It all gets underway with a 4:30 PM pre-game show and 5:00 PM puck drop on CJCB AM 1270. You don't wanna miss a minute of this one!

Eagles get the job done in opening game of road trip

The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles got this weekend's road trip off to a good start with a 4-2 win over the Shawinigan Cataractes. The home team put up a spirited effort in their attempt to stop a five-game losing streak, and Cape Breton had to bear down and work for what some people probably assumed would be an easy two points.

Chris Culligan and Robert Slaney combined to create the eventual game-winning goal, which broke a 2-2 tie about midway through the third period. They skated in on a two-on-one, Culligan made a great late pass over to Slaney, who one-timed it in for his eighth of the season and third in his last four games since being put on a line with Culligan and James Sheppard.

Both Slaney and Culligan finished with a goal and an assist on the night, while Oskars Bartulis and Jonathan Laberge (into an empty net) scored the other Cape Breton goals. It's nice to see Bartulis hitting the scoresheet over the past couple of games after struggling (by his standards) for a little while.

On the minus side, the powerplay went 0/6 on the night, and the top powerplay unit continues to struggle to score since its addition of Luc Bourdon. Is it just a matter of time before that combination catches fire, or will it soon be time to try something different for a #1 PP unit?

With the win, the Eagles took full advantage of an opportunity to close to within four points of the idle Lewiston MAINEiacs. Cape Breton's record now sits at 36-17-2 for 74 points, and they have won their last three hockey games.

The road trip continues today just about an hour down the road in Victoriaville, where the hometown Tigres are a very impressive 21-4-1 from the Colisee Desjardins (formerly le Colisee des Bois Francs). Victoriaville will be without leading scorer Benoit Doucet, but still boasts a deep lineup that has enjoyed a ton of success over the past couple of months, as they've very quietly moved up the standings in the Telus Division. The key player around whom the Victo offence revolves is Danish star Morten Madsen, who has been scoring at a clip of almost two points per game this season.

They'll most likely start veteran Jean-Christophe Blanchard in goal. No goaltender has performed better on his home ice this season than Blanchard, the former Moncton Wildcat. His home ice record is 16-3, with a 2.20 GAA, three shutouts, and a .929 save %. Cape Breton will have to get to this guy today if they are to have any chance at victory. The Eagles will counter with Ondrej Pavelec, who has really been rounding into form as of late. Other than the substitution of Pavelec in goal for David Davenport (who got the job done in getting the win last night), the Cape Breton lineup should be pretty much the same as it was yesterday.

It should also be noted that former Eagle Vincent Zaore will be in the Victoriaville lineup. He's been having a great overage season as one of the Tigres' most reliable blueliners.

Game time is at 5:00 PM ADT, with Kenny MacNeil kicking off the pre-game show from CJCB AM 1270 at 4:30.

This blogger personally thinks this will be the toughest game of this three-game road trip, so the Eagles had better be sharp!

PS- Keeping an eye on the race for first place, the Lewiston MAINEiacs are at home to the Drummondville Voltigeurs tonight.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Eagles open important road trip in Shawinigan tonight

Tonight, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles start off an important three-game February road trip with a 9:00 PM ADT start from the Jacques Plante Arena, against the host Shawinigan Cataractes. It will be the first meeting of the season between the Eagles and the Cataractes; Shawinigan is the only team remaining that the Eagles have yet to play.

Shawinigan is a rebuilding club that sits in ninth place in the ten-team "Telus Division" with a 21-29-2-3 record for 47 points. They have been especially cold as of late, with five losses in a row and a 3-7-0 record in their last ten hockey games. They also have trouble scoring goals; their total of 180 goals is third-worst in the league. Despite all of this, the Cataractes cannot be taken for granted. Look no further than last Friday night's loss to Rimouski as evidence that nothing is ever a guarantee, even if the odds are stacked strongly in your favour. Their five losses in a row, and especially their four straight losses on home ice, could make the Cats really hungry for a win tonight. As well, playing a Cape Breton team that is perceived as a "top team" might give them a bit of a "nothing to lose" mentality, and teams that are playing with that mentality can be very dangerous. The Eagles are for sure the favourite tonight, but they will have to be on their toes, especially since the Arena Jacques Plante can be an intimidating building to play in.

No word yet on a starting goaltender for Cape Breton, but Kevin Malletto should be between the pipes for Shawinigan. Tonight's game is the Cataractes' third in three nights, and former Eagle Marc-Andre Perron got the start in each of the previous two.

INJURY REPORT for Cape Breton:

- Luc Bourdon (ankle) practiced yesterday in Riviere-Du-Loup and reportedly made it through the practice pretty well. He is listed as "probable" (but not definite) for tonight's game.

- Cam Fergus (back) also practiced yesterday, but didn't make it through the practice. He will definitely not be back in the lineup tonight, and will likely be given a little bit more time off than originally anticipated to ensure a full recovery. I'd guess that he may sit out this entire road trip.

- Dean Ouellet, after a premature return on Tuesday against Moncton, also felt pretty good in practice yesterday and while he's not quite back to 100% yet, he will play tonight in Shawinigan.

- Jonathan Laberge has returned to the Eagles after taking a few days off to return home and attend his grandfather's funeral. He'll be in the lineup tonight.

- Scott Brannon (concussion) is still a couple of weeks away from recovery, and did not even make the road trip.

So in summary, Laberge will definitely be added to the lineup that defeated Moncton on Tuesday night, and Bourdon has a pretty decent chance of being added back to it as well. Fergus and Brannon remain out of the lineup.

The Eagles continue the road trip Saturday night in Victoriaville, and finish it off Sunday with a very important meeting in Lewiston with the first place MAINEiacs.


The voting for the 10th anniversary all-time Screaming Eagles team will start soon! Fans will be asked to choose the top goaltenders, defencemen, forwards, and of course enforcers, from ten years of Screaming Eagles hockey. More details on the exact starting date for voting, and on the voting process itself, will become available once they are known, but the balloting should begin sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Eagles top Cats 7-3 to take over sole possession of second place

With four key players out of the lineup for last night's home game against the Moncton Wildcats, it was up to the rest of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles to step up and fill a few voids.

That they did- in spades.

The Eagles managed to come through with a complete effort and dominant performance en route to thrashing their division rivals 7-3, and outshooting them 41-22. Managing to come up with such a performance with four key guys out of the lineup is a testament to how prepared the team was for this game, and how hard the guys worked out there. The challenge now is to be able to translate such preparation and intensity, on a consistent basis, over to games where the team has their full lineup.

Cape Breton received particularly great performances from Robert Slaney (1 G, 2 A), James Sheppard (2 G, 2 A), and especially JC Sawyer, who followed up his record-setting six-point game on Sunday with a FIVE-point effort last night (1 G, 4 A). Sawyer now has 11 points in his last two hockey games, totals which are simply staggering, especially for a defenceman. JC now has 61 points on the season, and is really closing in on Mathieu Dumas' team record for points in a season by a defenceman (69, back in 2001-2002).

The Eagles jumped out to a quick 4-0 first period lead and never really looked back. Moncton scored two quick ones midway through the first period to cut the lead to 4-2, but a Chris Culligan goal (finishing off a great rush by Sheppard) in the period's final minute gave Cape Breton a 5-2 lead after the first frame and, more importantly, swung momentum back in their favour. That first period was where most of the game's excitement occurred; the final two periods were pretty pedestrian.

With that character win, the Eagles move one point ahead of the Wildcats for sole possession of second place in the East Division. They also sit second overall in the league, as they managed to pass the Val d'or Foreurs as well last night. The team now trails the league-leading Lewiston MAINEiacs by six points, with Lewiston holding a game in hand (they play it tonight, in Saint John against the Sea Dogs).

Cape Breton finishes the five-game home stand with four wins and a loss, and their high-scoring wins in the last two home games will hopefully inject the team with confidence as they embark today on an important three-game weekend road trip. They will play Friday night in Shawinigan against the Cataractes, who sit in ninth place in the ten-team Telus Division. On Saturday, they take on the Victoriaville Tigres, who are near the top of the Telus and possess one of the best home ice records in the league. Finally, Sunday sees the Eagles travelling across the US border to take on the Lewiston MAINEiacs in a crucial matchup that needs no further billing!

Hopefully, a few of the guys missing from last night's game will be able to return on this road trip, and hopefully the team will be able to translate the desperation with which they played last night over to such games where they have a full lineup. Last night's game was not only an important two points in the standings; it was a reminder of exactly what got this Eagles team to where it is in the first place.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Depleted Eagles to take on Moncton for second place tonight

The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles have a golden opportunity tonight to move into sole possession of second place in the East Division, in the form of a meeting with the Moncton Wildcats, who they trail by just one point for that second spot.

However, they're going to have to try and get it done without a bevy of key players.

Sitting out tonight's game for sure are Scott Brannon (concussion), Luc Bourdon (ankle), and Dean Ouellet (lower body). The latter two, as you likely recall, left Sunday afternoon's game and did not return. Thankfully, their injuries are being reported as "day to day" in nature, as opposed to anything long-term.

As well, Cam Fergus (upper body) and Jonathan Laberge (personal) will likely be out of the Cape Breton lineup tonight.

Add it all up, and that's five key players missing, assuming that all of those guys do indeed sit out. Four of those players are forwards, leaving the Eagles with just nine healthy forwards, or enough for just three lines. Given that, the team will likely call up an affiliate forward or two for tonight's game. Line combinations are really anyone's guess, although it should be reasonably safe to assume that the Culligan-Sheppard-Slaney combination from the last hockey game will remain intact (and should be counted upon for a large chunk of tonight's work).

With so many key players out of the lineup, the guys that are playing tonight will go into the game knowing that they won't stand a chance against this Wildcat team if they give anything less than a full 60-minute effort. This is a challenge that, should the Eagles embrace it, could produce very rewarding results, and really remind our team of the virtues of hard work (which seemed to be forgotten at times on Friday night vs Rimouski). Tonight's game could be looked at as a real character-building opportunity, and for that reason I look forward to seeing how our depleted lineup fares.

Ondrej Pavelec will be back between the pipes tonight for Cape Breton, while Moncton could counter with either of two strong goaltenders; Jhase Sniderman or Nicola Riopel. Considering that he shut us out in the last meeting between the two teams, my guess is that we'll face Sniderman.

Also, tonight's game marks the return of Mark Barberio to C200 for the first time since being traded to the Wildcats in the Bourdon deal. It will mark his first of many appearances on our ice in a Wildcat uniform. Be sure to give this kid a warm reception, as he's a great player who never wanted to leave Cape Breton. It's going to be tough watching him develop into a franchise player in another team's uniform over the next few seasons.

Moncton has a gritty, in-your-face team that never stops skating, and we'll have to counter with equally hard work if we're to beat these guys tonight. It's a great opportunity to overtake these guys for second place, rather than fall three points behind them, so I think our guys should be pretty motivated. As well, the Eagles are really going to want to take advantage of this last home game before embarking on a very tough three-game road trip on the weekend.

Don't miss the battle for second place, tonight at C200.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Sawyer runs amok for six points as Eagles thump tired Voltigeurs, 8-2

It was a career night for Screaming Eagles defenceman JC Sawyer, as he scored three goals and three assists to lead Cape Breton to an 8-2 thrashing of a Drummondville team that was simply out of gas in their third game in less than 48 hours.

Sawyer's six points set a new record for Eagle defencemen and came just one point short of tying Olivier Proulx's team record of seven points in a game. His three first period goals also set a record for goals by an Eagle defenceman in a single period.

Dean Ouellet also established a new team record for goals in a season by a left winger, with his second goal of the game and 32nd of the season breaking the previous mark of 31 held by Kevin Cloutier.

The opponent may have been weary, but Cape Breton still deserves credit for bouncing back as best they could from a disappointing game on Friday night against Rimouski. Unlike Friday night's game, where a slow start proved costly, the Eagles came out flying right off of the opening faceoff on Sunday, and it resulted in them taking a 4-0 first period lead and never looking back.

David Davenport earned the win in goal for the Eagles, and looked sharp in his first start in six hockey games.

The win almost came at a huge cost, however. Both Ouellet and Luc Bourdon left the game with injuries and did not return, causing quite a bit of worry in the stands. However, post-game reports indicate that neither injury is expected to be long-term, and that both players are "day to day". This is a huge relief to Eagle fans, as it always seems as though the worst injuries occur in harmless-looking blowout games like yesterday's.

Also on the injury front, the team played without leading scorer Cam Fergus yesterday, as he's nursing a minor upper body injury. Scott Brannon continues to sit out with his second concussion of the season.

With the win, Cape Breton improves to 34-17-2 for 70 points and moves to within a single point of the Moncton Wildcats for second place in the division. They have a great opportunity to overtake the Cats on Tuesday, when the teams meet head-to-head at C200. As well, it is the final home game for the Eagles on this home stand, before embarking on a very tough weekend road trip.

Dominating win for the Eagles, but the Volts didn't put up much of a fight. Hopefully the Eagles won't have too much trouble switching gears between playing a listless opponent like that, and playing an extremely gritty and in-your-face hockey club in Moncton on Tuesday ngiht.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Eagles outworked, outwilled by plucky young Oceanic

After perhaps thinking they'd turned the corner with their two wins against Lewiston last weekend, the "new" Cape Breton Screaming Eagles received another reality check last night, in the form of a 5-3 loss to the Rimouski Oceanic at C200.

Rimouski simply wanted last night's game more than the Eagles did, and they played with an urgency and intensity that the Eagles weren't quite able to match, at least not in the first two periods. By period three, Cape Breton seemed to realize that they were going to need a full 100% effort to beat these guys, and they did dominate that third period, but it was "too little, too late."

It also didn't help matters that the Eagles ran into a hot goaltender. Tommy Legault was outstanding in the Oceanic net, making 34 saves (many of them from point blank range) and earning first star honours. Rimouski's bevy of young up-and-coming stars looked great last night, none more dominant that Czech forward Michael Frolik, who scored two goals and played great in all three zones of the rink.

For the Eagles, the line of Chris Culligan-James Sheppard-Robert Slaney had a decent game, with Sheppard and Slaney scoring highlight-reel goals, and goaltender Ondrej Pavelec was once again solid in the crease despite the loss, but too many players had "off" nights last night.

Friday's results were a significant blow to the Eagles in the standings. Along with Cape Breton's loss, the Lewiston MAINEiacs and Moncton Wildcats both recorded wins. The Eagles now sit three points back of Moncton for second place in the East Division, and a whopping eight back of Lewiston. After last weekend's sweep of the MAINEiacs, the Eagles were just four points back of the division leaders. It doesn't take long to lose the ground you worked so hard to make up, but with a couple of great efforts in coming games, it may not be long before we make up some serious ground either.

The loss also cost the Eagles a chance to establish a new team record for consecutive home ice wins. They entered the game on an 11-game home winning streak, which tied the mark set back in 2003-2004.

The challenge now is for Cape Breton to rebound with a great effort on Sunday afternoon against the Drummondville Voltigeurs, who have a similar potential to surprise a team that takes them lightly. Nothing but a full 60-minute effort will suffice. It's up to the Screaming Eagles to make that happen.

Edit: I edited out the content about the possibility of Derick Brassard returning to the Voltigeur lineup tomorrow, as I've since received word that he's not supposed to be back for a couple of weeks yet. Sorry for anyone that may have been misled.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Eagles home for another weekend; host Rimouski and Drummondville

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles fans will enjoy a rare opportunity to see two West Division opponents for the only time each this weekend, as the Rimouski Oceanic and Drummondville Voltigeurs come to town for Friday and Sunday games respectively. Fans only get to see each Quebec-based team once per season as a result of the rather unpopular unbalanced schedule adopted by the QMJHL in conjunction with the NHL's new (and equally unpopular) unbalanced schedule.

On Friday night, the young and exciting Oceanic sail into town riding a season-high four-game winning streak. Their offence seems to have really woken up during this streak, led by the QMJHL Rookie of the Month for January, Czech forward Michael Frolik, who was also picked 10th overall by the Florida Panthers in this past June's NHL draft (just one spot behind the Eagles' James Sheppard). Other flashy young players on this team include Maxime Tanguay (brother of the Calgary Flames' Alex Tanguay), Max Gratchev, and Olivier Fortier - all considered pretty good prospects for this coming NHL draft.

Rimouski may sit in last place in the West Division, but their current four-game win streak indicates that perhaps their young core is adjusting to the league, and that they could be a better team in the second half. For sure, they can't be taken lightly by the Eagles tonight, or they will extend their win streak to five games.

Speaking of streaks, Cape Breton has a chance to set a new team record streak of their own. They enter tonight's game having won each of their past eleven home games, which ties the previous team record set back in the 2003-2004 season. A win tonight would establish a new Eagle record for consecutive home ice wins.

Scott Brannon and Robert Slaney are still questionable for tonight's game with injuries. Ondrej Pavelec will likely get the call in goal, as the Eagles shall almost certainly keep riding the hot hand that has enjoyed so much success as of late (more on that in a bit).

On Sunday, Cape Breton hosts the Drummondville Voltigeurs in a 4:00 matinee from C200. Voltigeur superstar forward Derick Brassard will not be back in the lineup in time for this game. He has missed the entire season thus far with a severe shoulder injury, but has apparently been skating for the past few weeks and could return some time this month.

Drummondville had a bad start but has been moving up the standings over the past couple of months. They are led offensively by Europeans Tomas Svoboda and Tomas Zohorna, as well as overager Jonathan Duchesneau and 19-year-old Etienne Bellavance-Martin. Defencemen Drew Paris and Frederic St-Denis are also players to watch, and they've received very good goaltending this season from Pier-Olivier Pelletier. I don't have much more to say about this team because they are extremely foreign to most Cape Breton fans (myself included).......... all I know is that they have been playing pretty well over the past couple of months (after a terrible start to the season) and should pose a pretty stiff challenge to the Eagles.

Aside from the points available in the standings, this weekend's games are important in that they're part of the stretch drive towards the playoffs......... a key time of year when teams that have tweaked their rosters at the Xmas trading deadline are supposed to start gelling and building towards a finished, playoff-ready product. In our case, newcomers Jo Laberge and Beau Prokopetz seem to have pretty much integrated themselves into our lineup, but the big acqusition, Luc Bourdon, seems to have yet to really find his niche in the Eagles' lineup. Last weekend, he was suffering from an injury; if he is healthy this weekend, it's a real chance for he and the coaching staff to make some real strides in getting this guy fully integrated into our lineup.

This weekend, we fans get a break from the same old East Division rivals, and that's reason enough to come down to C200 and see something different!


I would like to take the time to congratulate Screaming Eagles goaltender Ondrej Pavelec on one heck of a return from the World Junior Championships. His play in six January games since coming back from that tournament was enough to earn him a Defensive Player of the Week award, a CHL Goaltender of the Week award, and most recently, QMJHL Defensive Player of the Month honours.

Ondrej had a bit of an up-and-down first half to the season, and it was expected that once he returned from the World Juniors, he would start to really get the lion's share of the starts in an attempt to really get him in a groove for the playoffs. We knew that he was going to be given the ball by the coaching staff upon his return, and so far, he's been just incredible. Congratulations Ondrej on all of your awards this month, and keep up the great work - we'll need you down this stretch drive and in the playoffs!