The games have been played, the brackets have been set, all that’s left to do is win a few more.
The Charlottetown Islanders begin their 2022 President’s Cup Playoffs by welcoming familiar foes to the Eastlink Centre on Thursday, May 5th, when they match up with the Moncton Wildcats in their first-round best-of-five matchup.
Charlottetown (48-13-7-0) put together a franchise-best season, finishing second in the QMJHL with 103 points and earning the second seed in the Eastern Conference. It was a year-long performance highlighted by a strong offense that scored 283 regular-season goals, the second-highest single-season amount in franchise history, while the 179 goals against is the lowest full-season total in franchise history. Isles head coach and general manager Jim Hulton and his staff have assembled a team that has competed at both ends of the ice, despite a host of injuries throughout the year, and are prepared to reap the rewards.
Upfront, the offensive drink was stirred by Patrick Guay. The 20-year-old forward became the second player in franchise history to crack the 50-goal plateau, passing David Laliberte’s single-season record with 55 goals total, finishing second in the QMJHL in that category. His 104 points also represented a franchise high.
Not to be outdone, Xavier Simoneau pushed the pace whenever he was on the ice and proved to be nothing short of a difference-maker. The Montreal Canadiens draft pick played just 48 games due to injury, yet still finished 12th in QMJHL scoring with 86 points. Simoneau produced at an incredible pace this season, something he’ll need to continue for the Isles to have playoff success.
On the back-end, Lukas Cormier stood out as the crown jewel in the QMJHL’s defensive crop. The reigning Emile Bouchard Trophy winner as the league’s Defenseman of the Year did everything in his power to defend that title, posting a league-high 81 points for defensemen. The 33 goals he scored places him in the QMJHL’s top-ten single-season totals among rearguards.
Between the pipes, Francesco Lapenna and Oliver Satny have handled duties incredibly since Lapenna’s arrival at the holiday trading period. The duo provides a blanket of security in the crease that allows the players in front of them to play to their fullest ability. Given the strength of their season, many junior hockey experts have pegged the Islanders to be one of the top teams to beat these playoffs.
Their cross-Confederation Bridge rivals, however, may have something to say about that. The Moncton Wildcats (28-31-6-3) may have finished seventh in the Eastern Conference standings; however, they showed plenty of heart and determination for a younger squad and surprised many throughout the season.
Offensively, the arrival of over-age forward Brooklyn Kalmikov was a welcome one in the Hub City. Acquired early in the regular season from the Victoriaville Tigres, Kalmikov recorded 34 goals and 72 points in 62 games with the Wildcats, on top of 4 goals in 5 games with the Tigres. He’s helped propel the Wildcats top line and built considerable chemistry with 2022 NHL Draft hopeful Maxim Barbashev.
On defense, the youthful exuberance that was a hallmark of Moncton’s season could be best exemplified by the performance of Etienne Morin. The 16-year-old surprised many and turned heads with 33 points in 64 games, the most points by a defenseman taken in the 2021 QMJHL Draft and 5th overall among his peers. On the opposite end of the spectrum was former Islander and defensive stalwart Anthony Hamel. The man affectionately known as Hammer established himself as one of the QMJHL’s hardest-hitting defenseman and proved himself as a leader both on and off the ice.
In goal, Jonathan Lemieux took 17-year-old blue-chip prospect, Vincent Filion, under his wing following his trade to the Wildcats on January 6th. The veteran netminder bounced back after a slow start to the season in Saint John despite facing over 38 shots on average per game.
The biggest X-factor in this series may come down to who can stay healthiest. A condensed schedule in the second half of the season led to injury trouble for most teams around the league, and that was no different for Charlottetown and Moncton. For the Islanders, Drew Elliott is considered a game-time decision for Game 1, while Ben Boyd is expected to take part in the opening round series but will likely miss both Games 1 and 2. Patrick Leblanc, meanwhile, remains out long-term.
For the Wildcats, the team listed a whole host of players in the infirmary during their final game of the season, including Nathan Casey, Thomas Darcy, Ethan Dollemont, Vincent Labelle, and Charles-Antoine Pilote. For Moncton to achieve optimal success, they’ll have to hope those players can get into the lineup at some point in the series.
The best-of-five matchup between the Charlottetown Islanders and Moncton Wildcats gets underway with Game 1 on Thursday, May 5th at 7:00 pm. Pick up your tickets at the Eastlink Centre box office, by phone at 902-629-6625, or online by clicking HERE. You can also catch all the action on the airwaves at MAX 93.1, watch along on Eastlink TV