With no shortage of offensive weapons and a beefed up blue line, the Charlottetown Islanders are looking to make the most of their veteran core in what’s shaping up to be a golden opportunity in the weeks ahead.
The Isles have been playing good hockey under head coach and general manager Jim Hulton of late, climbing into fourth place in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with wins in seven of their last 10 games. Standing in their way however, division rivals in Saint John and Cape Breton have played them tough this season, with the latest encounter resulting in a 2-1 home ice loss to the first place Sea Dogs on Tuesday.
“It was a true heavyweight battle,” Hulton told The Guardian’s Jason Malloy post-game. “Unfortunately, we came out on the wrong end of it, but that’s the only disappointing part of the night for me.”
The Islanders felt they made a statement in the one-goal loss, outshooting Saint John 29-24 while forcing Carolina Hurricanes prospect Callum Booth into some tough saves as he earned first star honours for the Sea Dogs.
“It shows that we can play with them,” Islanders goaltender Mark Grametbauer noted. “We played an amazing game. Their goalie definitely bailed them out. I think if we meet them in playoffs . . . we’ll be fine, it’ll be a good playoff match.”
Though they’ve lost five of their seven matchups against Saint John this season, there’s reason to think that Charlottetown would pose a significant challenge to the Sea Dogs, or any QMJHL opponent they face in a playoff scenario.
Ottawa Senators first round pick Filip Chlapik enters the weekend on a nine game point streak, one that has netted 23 points (5-18–23) dating back to January 27th. The Czech centreman has enjoyed success alongside veteran wingers Kameron Kielly and Adam Marsh, giving Charlottetown a dynamic top six up front that also features the high-scoring line of top scorer Francois Beauchemin centering Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Daniel Sprong and Anaheim Ducks draftee Alex Dostie.
Sprong, who was kept out of the lineup until January 6th recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, has 25 points (13-12–25) through his first 17 games this season, helping fuel Charlottetown’s fourth ranked power play.
Hulton brought in reinforcements to the Islanders blue line this season, adding Colorado Avalanche prospect Nicolas Meloche from the Gatineau Olympiques and Vancouver Canucks pick Carl Neill from the Sherbrooke Phoenix to join captain Guillaume Brisebois in forming a formidable top three.
In goal, Grametbauer is 6-2-1-0 since being acquired from Gatineau as he shares the crease with 17-year-old Matthew Welsh who has won six of his last seven starts.
With so many new faces in the lineup, it’s taken some time for things to come together, but come together they have.
“When you (bring) in a whole bunch of new guys at the deadline, it’s always a challenge to make everybody mesh together,” Neill told The Guardian. “I think what you’re starting to see on the ice now is the boys starting to get used to playing with each other.”
If the Islanders can find a way to solve Saint John, the first President Cup title in team history may be within reach. Circle March 10th and 17th on your calendars as the two sides meet two more times on the 2016-17 schedule.
Charlottetown comes off a five game home stand that resulted in a 4-1 record as they outscored opponents 33-9. They hit the road for five straight, beginning with matchups in Moncton and Halifax on Friday and Saturday.
READ MORE CHL TOP-10 SPOTLIGHT FEATURES:
- Sept. 21: London Knights
- Sept. 28: Saint John Sea Dogs
- Oct. 6: Prince George Cougars
- Oct. 12: Hamilton Bulldogs
- Oct. 19: Shawinigan Cataractes
- Oct. 26: Regina Pats
- Nov. 2: Erie Otters
- Nov. 10: Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
- Nov. 17: Everett Silvertips
- Nov. 23: Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
- Nov. 30: Medicine Hat Tigers
- Dec. 7: Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
- Dec. 14: Windsor Spitfires
- Feb. 8: Owen Sound Attack