Club’s success this season a surprise to everyone but the team
High school hoops players hit the courts again.
The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles enter tonight’s meeting with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan seven points out of first place in the overall Quebec Major Junior Hockey League standings. They’re 29-17-2-2, have won four straight, are 7-2-0-1 in their past 10 games and finished 9-2-0-1 over the month of January. Cape Breton is also nipping at the heels of both the Charlottetown Islanders and the Saint John Sea Dogs on the top of the Maritime Division standings. Not bad for a team projected to be in rebuild mode to start the season.
But team captain Olivier LeBlanc hasn’t been surprised by the success he and his teammates have enjoyed.
“I think we’re surprising a lot of people, but we had high expectations for this year,” said the 20-year-old defenceman from Quebec City. “I’m not surprised because I know how hard we’ve been working since training camp, so I think it’s just the results of the hard work we put in, so we just have to keep doing that.”
By comparison, Cape Breton’s more veteran-laden roster from 2015-16 finished in seventh place overall, sporting a 38-24-5-1 mark. There’s still plenty of hockey to go this year — 18 games are left on the team’s regular season schedule — but the Screaming Eagles have a chance to finish in the same neighbourhood or better in the standings. And that’s with 10 players born in either 1999 or 2000 on the current roster, and playing regular minutes.
They’re getting it done with veterans leading the way, and rookies following their lead. Overage forwards Giovanni Fiore and Massimo Carozza are tops in scoring, while LeBlanc has been quietly having a career season on the backend. Drake Batherson has excelled in his first full season with the club, while first-year import players Vasily Glotov and Leon Gawanke have been solid contributors, among others.
Add in the steady goaltending of 17-year-old Kyle Jessiman and 16-year-old Kevin Mandolese, and it’s been a winning recipe.
“The veterans and the rookies are together and it’s a big part of our success,” said LeBlanc. “When you’re off the ice, you’re feeling good about yourself and you feel a part of the team. As a young guy, it shows on the ice when you’re more confident.”
The success the team has enjoyed on the ice hasn’t been a surprise for head coach and general manager Marc-André Dumont either. He says the team works hard, competes and everyone’s contributing.
“They work hard in the gym. There are guys in there training,” he said after practice on Thursday. “I heard the squat rack and the weights fall down on the ground, and we’re playing two games in 21 hours.
“They’re working hard on the ice. They’re spending time on the ice and today, we had to kick them out.”
But Dumont said his team isn’t taking anything for granted.
“Every day we get to the rink, and if there’s one second in that day we’re not on the job, we stop, we acknowledge it, and we change it,” he said. “That’s something we’ll continue doing because it’s not because you’re successful yesterday that you’ll be successful tomorrow. Success is a daily task. It’s a daily challenge.
“The minute any of our players or ourselves as a team sit on it, the parade is going to go by.”
The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles have had plenty of reason to celebrate as of late. They’ve won their past four games, are 7-2-0-1 in their last 10 and are only seven points back of first place in the overall league standings.