Q league playoffs open tonight with battle of Nova Scotia
It's been 15 years since Halifax and Cape Breton have faced each other in the playoffs
The last time the Halifax Mooseheads and Cape Breton Eagles met in the playoffs was in 2008. Brad Marchand and Jakob Voracek, now NHL veterans, were the stars of that Halifax team. Nick MacNeil was one of the Eagles players; today he's an assistant coach with the team.
The battle of Nova Scotia has always been a fierce rivalry between the two clubs and it will be rekindled Friday night when Halifax and Cape Breton square off in game one of their best-of-seven playoff series.
"It's going to be a lot of fun and obviously both teams know each other really well," said Halifax forward Jordan Dumais. "I'm sure it might get a little chippy out there but we just need to play our style of game."
The two teams had opposite seasons. Halifax was one of the top teams in the league and finished second in the league standings. They made some key acquisitions to improve their lineup down the stretch, while the Eagles are one of the lowest seeds in the Q league's post-season race for the President's Cup.
The Mooseheads last won the President's Cup in 2013, when they went on to win their first and only Memorial Cup title.
Before the league's trading deadline passed, Halifax General Manager Cam Russell swung a pair of deals that added a lot of firepower and experience to an already loaded team. Before Christmas, they acquired Fredericton native Josh Lawrence, who has been one of the league's top centres since joining the team.
"We have a really good team here in Halifax this year, but we are definitely not looking too far ahead," said Lawrence, who was a key player for the Saint John Sea Dogs last year when they hosted and won the Memorial Cup. "We just need to take things one game at a time and take care of Cape Breton."
Lawrence finished the season with 50 goals and was the top faceoff man in the league.
His linemates for the last couple of weeks also reached the 50-goal mark. Alexandre Doucet, another mid-season pickup, led the league in goals with 58 and Dumais scored 54 goals.
A third-round draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Dumais also racked up 86 assists and won the league scoring title. His 140 points set a Halifax record for most points in a single season.
"As linemates, we really help each other out a lot and we are strong in different areas of our game," said Dumais, who was snubbed by Hockey Canada when he was cut from Team Canada's world junior team in December. "I couldn't ask for any more from my linemates."
While the Eagles stumbled out of the gate early in the season, several trades were made at the trade deadline. Cape Breton brought in two Nova Scotia players, and in the second half of the season the team was much improved. Last week they beat the Mooseheads 2-1 in Halifax and they are embracing their underdog status.
"We know that team is just full of really good, skilled players, including three guys who finished with more than a hundred points," said Eagles defenceman Brayden Schmitt, a Truro native who joined the Eagles mid-season after being traded from the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. "We know it's going to be really tough but it's the playoffs, so it's anyone's game."
Eagles forward Jacob Newcombe was also traded from the Armada to the Eagles. He grew up in Sambro, N.S., and will have family and friends in the stands when the series gets underway.
"It's going to be pretty cool, playing in your hometown is always fun," said Newcombe, a former Halifax Macs U18 player who scored 25 goals in his second season in the Q league. "I watched a lot of Mooseheads games growing up, especially when I was younger when Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin were there, so to be playing in that same situation it's going to be a great experience."
But the Eagles will be in tough against Halifax's prolific offence. They have three excellent lines, led by their three 50-goal scorers who play on the top line. The team scored 335 goals in the regular season, more than any other team in the country.
The Mooseheads also had one of the league's top goalies in Matthis Rousseau. He was among the league leaders in every goaltender category. But the team will start the series without one of their key defencemen, as Cam Whynot of Kentville, N.S., is still recovering from a foot injury.
Halifax will host games one and two on Friday and Saturday. The series will switch to Sydney for games three and four on Tuesday and Wednesday.