The MHL regular season gets underway tonight.
For its 51st campaign, the league will once again feature twelve teams in two divisions – Eastlink North and Eastlink South – playing a 50 game schedule. Each team will play 24 home games, 24 road games and two games at the MHL Showcase in Summerside, PEI on October 10th and 11th.
“The opening of the MHL season is the most exciting time of the season for everyone,” league president Brian Whitehead said. “Everyone is starting with a clean slate. It’s truly the beginning of a long road to the league playoff championship and beyond. I wish all teams, players and fans the best of luck during the upcoming season.”
The opening weekend of the 2017-18 regular season features a 10-game slate and, as always, many new faces and storylines.
It all starts when the Pictou County Weeks Crushers host the St. Stephen Aces today at 7 p.m. For the Aces, there will be an all new crew behind the bench as Phil Richer takes the reigns as head coach and GM in St Stephen. A former captain in the MHL with the Miramichi Timberwolves, Richer takes over for the departed Josh Hepditch who has moved on to the QMJHL Moncton Wildcats in an assistant coaching capacity. Joining him behind the bench is a person who is also no stranger to the MHL. Justin Bowers, a former start forward and later coach with the Woodstock Slammers, returns to the league as the Aces assistant coach/GM. The staff in St. Stephen is rounded out by Fredericton native Eric Neilson. A former QMJHL Champion with the Rimouski Oceanic, Neilson is coming off a 12 year pro career in the ECHL and AHL. The Aces, who clinched a playoff spot for the first time in franchise history last March, will start the season with a three-in-three road trip beginning in New Glasgow, where the Crushers will be defending their MHL regular season championship title as well as starting the journey towards another MHL playoff title after capturing the prize for the first time in 2016.
The Aces will continue down the road on Friday night to Berwick where they will face the Valley Wildcats in a 7 p.m. start. The Wildcats, who failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since relocating to the Annapolis Valley in 2013, will also have a different look both on the ice and off. Former assistant coach, Travis Young, will make his debut as the head coach of the club as Nick Greenough, bench boss of the club since 2013, will focus solely on GM duties. Also included in the fold is assistant coach Charles Grant. A former standout netminder with the Yarmouth Mariners, Grant followed his MHL days up with four years at Dartmouth College, where he was a four time Academic All-American and earned 2nd Team All-Ivy League Honors in 2013-14. Grant spent part of last year with the Wildcats program as a goaltending consultant. The club was also bolstered by a number of off-season acquisitions, one of the most notable being star forward Makail Parker, who was obtained from the Miramichi Timberwolves prior to training camp. The 20 year old from Newport, N.S. returns home to the Valley, where he spent his youth hockey with the Bantam and Midget AAA Wildcats programs.
Also on Friday night in Woodstock, history will be made when the Edmundston Blizzard make their MHL regular season debut. The former Dieppe Commandos franchise, which relocated to Northern New Brunswick during the off season, will once again be led on the bench by coaches Ryan Salvis and Frederic Roy. Joining them will be former Commandos defenceman Mathieu Martin. After a dynamic marketing campaign during the summer, the Blizzard start their 2017-18 campaign against a Slammers squad that features new promoted head coach Sandy McCarthy. He makes his debut as head coach following the departure of Fabian Joseph in July. Joining McCarthy behind the bench will be another former Slammer player, Nicholas Tremere. The former defenceman returns to the MHL after spending his post-secondary career at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont. Game time in Woodstock is 7:30 p.m.
Truro will host the World in December as the World Jr.A Hockey Challenge makes its way to the provincial Hub. Leading up to that momentous event, fans will also be following the initial stages of the MHL title defense of the Bearcats. The 2017 MHL postseason victors get their season underway on Friday night in Yarmouth at 7:30 p.m. The Mariners, no strangers to hosting the WJAC after back to back turns in 2012 and 2013, are looking to build off an impressive 2016-17 season that saw them start a white hot 13-0 during the campaign and clinch a playoff berth after a one year hiatus.
Friday night will round out with the South Shore Lumberjacks venturing to Campbellton to take on the Tigers at 7:30 p.m. Both clubs will be looking to make the postseason after failing to qualify in 2016-17. Greg Leeland’s charges feature a tough, veteran blueline that includes Jabes Benedict, Pierre-Luc Lurette, Pierre-Olivier Michaud and Francis Thibeault. The Lumberjacks, once again led by Head Coach Kyle McAllister, sees the return of impact forward Logan O’Neill and Samuel Cyr-Ledoux. Also adding depth up front will be Mateo Short, acquired from the Yarmouth Mariners in the off season.
On Saturday, the reigning champion Bearcats will head home to raise their 2017 Playoff Championship banner when they host the St. Stephen Aces at 7 p.m. It’s been an off season full of largely good news for the Bearcats. During the off season, the club acquired 20-year-old impact forward Campbell Pickard from the Miramichi Timberwolves. No stranger to the Bearcats, Pickard led all players in postseason points last season as he helped lead the T-Wolves to Game 7 of the MHL Final against this same Truro team. In other recent news, it was announced that head coach Shawn Evans and athletic therapist Steve Lindsay have been named to the staff of Team Canada East for the upcoming World Jr.A Challenge this December.
The Pictou County Weeks Crushers hit the road for the first time this season when they travel to Amherst to face the Ramblers in a 7 p.m. start. The Rams spent the summer acquiring a number of player who are destined to make a difference on the scoreboard and in the room for the team in 2017-18. Among the players making their way to an already strong Amherst squad this fall are Jake Barter, coming off a solid QMJHL career with Gatineau, Victoriaville and Acadie-Bathurst, Caleb Rich, who spent last season with the Halifax Mooseheads, Brady Griffin-Hefford, who was acquired from the St. Stephen Aces and former first overall selection in the MHL Draft, Liam Conrad, who makes his way from the Edmundston Blizzard.
The Miramichi Timberwolves, coming off their most successful season in franchise history, will begin the defence of the Eastlink North Division regular season and playoff titles when they host the South Shore Lumberjacks at 7:30 p.m. The T-Wolves, who saw a large roster turnover during the off season due to trades and graduating players, will nonetheless remain one of the tougher defensive clubs in the league. Goaltender Tanner Somers returns with a blueline in front of him that includes four formidable newcomers to the club; David Comeau, who split last season between the Woodstock Slammers and the QMJHL Saint John Sea Dogs and Charlottetown Islanders, Mitchell Kreis, acquired from the Valley Wildcats, Jarrod Shipley, moved in from the Truro Bearcats and Matt McInnis, formerly of the St. Stephen Aces.
The Summerside Western Capitals hit the ice for the first time during the 2017-18 campaign when they take on the Slammers in Woodstock on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The Caps featured one of the top first year group of players in the league, which led directly to the promotion of one of them, forward Brodie MacArthur, to the QMJHL Moncton Wildcats. A pair of other notable rookies from last season, TJ Shea and Kallum Muirhead, will be looking to make an impact as sophomores under bench boss Billy McGuigan. Sebastien Cormier, last years winner of the MHL Community Spirit Award, will anchor the blueline for a Western Capitals squad that made it to the Eastlink North Division Finals last spring.
The Valley Wildcats and Yarmouth Mariners round out the first weekend of action in the MHL with a 7:30 p.m. matchup at Mariners Center. The Mariners have retained several key pieces to their resurgent 2016-17 season, with the list of returning players including goaltender Leif Hertz, defenceman Noah McMullin and Duncan McKie as well as key forwards Aaron Maillet, Matt Barron and Andrew Martell.
All games of the 2017-18 MHL regular season will be available for viewing live and online via mhl.hockeytv.com.