The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles experienced a bright spot on Wednesday, one of the few from this season spent in the QMJHL basement searching for a flashlight to find a way out.
The team snapped the Moncton Wildcats’ six game winning streak with a hard-fought 4-3 overtime win Wednesday night, avenging a 12-2 drubbing by the Wildcats the week before.
It’s been few and far between to find the positives for the Screaming Eagles, last in the QMJHL with a 13-42-3-5 record. They already are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, and will duke it out with the Shawinigan Cataractes for the league’s first overall pick. It’s the first year the team has missed the playoffs in their history on Cape Breton Island. You have to look back to the 1992-93 season, when the team was the Granby Bisons, to the last time the franchise has missed the spring dance.
Screaming Eagles general manager and head coach Marc-André Dumont told T.J. Colletto of the Cape Breton Post that his team is ready to play out the string and finish the season on a strong note.
“I think it’s important for the boys to feel good about themselves when they come to the rink and leave the rink, rather than feel sorry for ourselves,” Dumont said. “I don’t think feeling sorry for ourselves is going to bring us anywhere. We have to make sure we come to the rink and compete every single day and try to gain the best hockey level possible and leave the rink saying we left everything on the ice. That’s going to be useful for the players and the group, too.
“I think there’s a lot to win individually and there’s a lot to win as a group to finish as strong as possible.”
The Screaming Eagles started off the year with head coach and general manager Ron Choules, who was fired in December after the team started with a 7-17-2-4 record. After spinning the former-QMJHL-coaches wheel looking for a new bench boss, they settled on Dumont, who started the year with the Val-d’Or Foreurs before finding a pink slip on his desk in October. Mario Durocher, whom Choules replaced when he was hired in Cape Breton, became the new Foreurs coach.
Dumont, who coached three seasons in Val-d’Or, never had a winning record with the Foreurs and never made it out of the first round with the team. Since Dumont was hired, the Eagles are 6-25-1-1, but injuries and the trading deadline have to be taken into consideration. The team traded veterans Blake Millman, Simon Desmarais, Philippe Trudeau and Alexandre Lavoie at the trading period. Lavoie, the team’s leading scorer at the time, asked to be dealt.
Since then, the team has been bit by the injury bug. Right now, forwards William Carrier, Jakub Culek, Kyle Farrell, Timothé Simard and Cole Murphy and defenceman Loic Leduc are all on the shelf. Carrier is the team’s leading scorer, while Farrell and Culek have been missed dearly. Team athletic therapist Richard Girardin was fired last week, replaced by Montreal Alouettes assistant athletic therapist Nicolas Nault in the short term.
Dumont acknowledged that frequent injuries had a major impact on the Eagles season.
“The result, I think, is directly linked to the fact that we’ve been missing key players for more than two months,” Dumont said. “In our league the margin between a loss and a win is very thin and since I arrived Dec. 4, there’s 11 games that were within reach.”
Injuries have forced the Screaming Eagles to dress a wide range of younger players to fill spots. The team is playing with five 16-year-olds on the active roster, one above the league limit, although teams can ask for permission to carry more. Dumont has said that so long as the 16-year-olds are taking a regular shift, the league won’t reject a request to dress more. The team has dressed up to seven in a game this season. Four more players are 17, giving the Screaming Eagles nine players under the age of 18 on their active roster. Taking that into account, it makes sense that the Eagles have suffered from losses to the tune of 8-0, 9-1, 7-3, 8-2 and 12-2 since Jan. 31.
Dumont stresses building from within, a technique he used in Val-d’Or, where players he drafted are players the Foreurs are now relying upon. The Screaming Eagles moved a pile of picks during the trading period, moving six and picking up seven. They acquired six players, only one of them 19 or older.
The Screaming Eagles have five games left, including two against their provincial rivals and Canada’s top-ranked team, the Halifax Mooseheads.
“It’s a sad moment for us [to be out of the playoffs] but we still have [five] games to play so we’re going to play it like we were going into the playoffs,” said Eagles defenceman Jonathan Oligny told Erin Pottie of the Cape Breton Post last week.
“We’re going to continue to work hard and do our best,” forward Charles-Eric Légaré said.