2019-20 Season Preview: Eastlink North

Campbellton Tigers
2018-19 in Review
Record: 31-13-2-4 (2nd in Eastlink North)
Playoffs: Lost in four games to Yarmouth in the Canadian Tire Cup Final
Goals For: 183 (6th)
Goals Against: 127 (2nd)
Powerplay: 23.7% (3rd)
Penalty Kill: 82.7% (5th)

Leading Scorers
Pierre-Luc Lurette (18-30-48, not returning)
Pascal Valcourt (20-27-47)
Dylan Coffey (20-23-43, not returning)

Brand new blueline
The strength of the Tigers last season, in their run to the Canadian Tire Cup Final, was in the defensive core. Stalwarts Francis Thibeault and Pierre-Luc Lurette are gone, as is Brendan Bornstein. It’s an entirely fresh look for Campbellton in 2019-20, and will be interesting to see how they function as a group. There was a lot of offence generated from the 2018-19 group that will be hard to replace, but they were just as solid defensively.

Gray’s follow-up
The 2018-19 season was one to remember for Tristan Gray. After posting a 2.35 GAA, .924 save percentage, and three shutouts in the regular season, the 19-year-old could easily have been named the Canadian Tire Cup Playoff MVP with a 1.82 GAA, .938 save percentage and a remarkable five shutouts. His play without that group of familiar defensemen in front of him will go a long way to determine Campbellton’s season. Betting odds say he’s more than up to the task.

A wealth of returnees at forward
For as many pieces that are missing on the blueline, Campbellton have eight forwards returning from last season. Coleton Perry (15-13-28), Maxime Charest (4-12-16), Joel Walker (13-15-28), Pascal Valcourt, and Kyle Petten (10 goals in 14 games) will be counted on, as well as William Basque, who spent the past three seasons in the QMJHL with Gatineau after putting up ten goals and 13 assists for the Tigers in 2015-16. There’s a lot to like with the defending Eastlink North champs.

Edmundston Blizzard
2018-19 in Review
Record: 26-17-6-1 (3rd in Eastlink North)
Playoffs: Lost in five games to Campbellton in the Eastlink North semifinal
Goals For: 189 (5th)
Goals Against: 162 (6th)
Powerplay: 18.4% (8th)
Penalty Kill: 82.6% (6th)

Leading Scorers
Logan Johnston (27-44-71, not returning)
Gabriel Vanier (31-32-63, not returning)
Sam King (26-30-56, not returning)

Fresh start?
Despite most of the key pieces from Edmundston’s 2017-18 championship team now having moved on, the team is still left with a group that will be in the mix all season long in the Eastlink North. An overhaul in the off-season will give new Head Coach Emery Olauson some work to do. Chad Wilson (2-6-8) and Isaac Chapman (13-14-27) join from Pictou County and Brock MacLeod is an impact player coming from Valley after a season with the QMJHL’s Mooseheads.

Experienced defensemen
Five of Edmundston’s returning players, all 19 or 20-year-olds, are on the blueline. Tristan Mercure (7-20-27), Tommy Bertrand (1-3-4 in 14 GP), Marc Antoine Couture (3-10-13), Justin Lush (1-13-14), and Chase Carter (0-5-5) will provide goaltenders Ewan MacDonald (3.13 GAA, .900 save percentage, three shutouts) and newcomer Antoine Lyonnais with help in Edmundston’s own end all season long.

New faces at forward
Going back to the forwards, Dallas Maurovic (14-29-43), Felix Rioux (5-5-10), and Aaron Brown (12-14-26) return, while Ben Lightbody makes the team after playing three games for the Blizzard last season. 2018 draft pick Alex Arsenault makes the team as well, while Edmundston added Tristan Gagnon from the QCHL’s André-Laurendeau Boomerang. With MacLeod, Chapman, and Wilson in the mix, the Blizzard shouldn’t be out of many games.

Fredericton Red Wings
2018-19 in Review
Record: 20-27-3-0 (4th in Eastlink North as St. Stephen Aces)
Playoffs: Lost in four games to Summerside in the Eastlink North semifinal
Goals For: 138 (10th)
Goals Against: 174 (7th)
Powerplay: 18.8% (6th)
Penalty Kill: 78.9% (7th)

Leading Scorers
Evan White (7-33-40)
Everett Hicks (10-27-37, not returning)
Zach Alchorn (13-14-27)

New team, familiar roster
The Fredericton Red Wings kick off the MHL’s 2019-20 regular season on the road against the Weeks Crushers and aim to return to the playoffs after doing so in their final year in St. Stephen. The Grant-Harvey Centre is ready for their home debut during the season’s second weekend of action. The former-Aces were assembling an impressive group and have complimented them with a number of players from outside the MHL. Will the formula work? GM Brent Grantand Head Coach Brian Casey hope so.

New goaltenders
Hometown boy Jack Grant returns to the MHL after a season in the BCHL. Breaking in with the Woodstock Slammers, Grant spent 2017-18 in St. Stephen. Joining him is Erik MacInnis, a 2018 draft pick who makes the jump from the Charlottetown Pride in the NBPEIMMHL.

Mix of youth and experience
The defense boasts three draft picks from June in Jared Cosman, Neil MacLean, and Alex Hayes, as well as Logan Carruthers who was acquired from Pictou County. They’ll be flanked by 20-year-olds Evan White (7-33-40), a stalwart on the blueline who led the team in scoring and the lone returning defenseman, and Tyler Browning, who spent last season in the SIJHL and AJHL. Up front, the Red Wings are hoping players like Zach Alchorn (13-14-27), Liam Smith (13-11-24), Ethan Stuckless (10-6-16), and Andrew Antle (6-9-15) can improve their scoring punch and make playoff qualification a little less stressful.

Grand Falls Rapids
2018-19 in Review
Record: 13-30-5-2 (6th in Eastlink North)
Goals For: 153 (8th)
Goals Against: 239 (11th)
Powerplay: 19.8% (T-4th)
Penalty Kill: 73.5% (12th)

Leading Scorers
Jean-Simon Belanger (36-40-76, not returning)
Dawson Wood (24-28-52)
Chris Melendez (19-23-42, not returning)

Settled into their new home
The first season in Grand Falls didn’t go as well as some had hoped, but fan support for the Rapids never waved. A big part of this team’s success, much like the next team we’ll talk about, will hinge on cutting down on goals against. The 239 goals allowed last season were the 2nd-worst in the MHL. 19-year-old goaltender Tyriq Outen spent last season with Acadie-Bathurst of the QMJHL and will be joined by the returning Nolan Boyd (5.03 GAA, .858 save percentage) to reduce those figures and solidify things in net.

Chemistry with the forward group
Eight forwards are back in 2019-20 for new head coach Brad MacKenzie’s squad. Last year’s second-leading scorer Dawson Wood is among them, along with Matthew MacNeil (7-3-10), Antoni Matte (4-14-18), and Mark Richard (3-8-11). Miguel Pare brings some scoring from the CCHL2 and former Tiger Drew Toner will help in that regard as well after two seasons in Campbellton.

Revamped blueline
Denis Toner returns to the franchise after just over two seasons with the Woodstock Slammers before heading to Halifax of the QMJHL. Matthew MacKay (10-20-30) is back as well as Drew Cornick (1-0-1), while Danny Griffith was added from the CCHL’s Cornwall Colts. Like the goaltenders, the pressure will be on this group to stabilize team defence.

Miramichi Timberwolves
2018-19 in Review
Record: 19-28-3-0 (5th in Eastlink North)
Goals For: 150 (9th)
Goals Against: 218 (10th)
Powerplay: 14.2% (11th)
Penalty Kill: 77.5% (9th)

Leading Scorers
Matthew Briggs (13-24-37)
Johnny Foley (16-20-36, not returning)
Walker Campbell (24-11-35, not returning)

Putting a plan into action
Miramichi barely missed out on the playoffs last season with a team that had few returnees and was building for the future. Enter 2019-20 and the Timberwolves’ forwards are all returnees, while four defensemen played for the team last season. They have two new goaltenders, with 2019 draft pick Ben Gibbon and Olivier Pimparé-Charbonneau, who spent last season with Nepean of the CCHL. The pieces are here for Miramichi to make a strong push towards the playoffs.

Returning forwards
As mentioned, this will be a very familiar group that Head Coach/GM Rob MacDonald has assembled. Matthew Briggs will look to lead Miramichi offensively again this season, with support from the likes of Eric Pelletier (11-12-23), Charles-Andre Cyphiot (10-6-16 in 19 GP), Jason Imbeault (8-11-19), and Brendan Milson (4-7-11). 2018 draft selection Gavin Watt had a cup of coffee with the team, with one game played, and joins Miramichi full-time this year.

Cut down on the goals against
Miramichi held a -68 goal differential in 2018-19, allowing the 3rd-worst total of 218 goals. Lucas MacAulay (2-4-6) spent last season with Campbellton and Grand Falls and joins a group of defensemen that includes Jack DesRoche (1-5-6), Jarrett Wood (1-5-6), Jacob Evans (2-14-16), and Mike Oliver (0-3-3). Their continued development and chemistry will go a long way to helping their new goaltenders and putting Miramichi in position to reach the Canadian Tire Cup Playoffs.

Summerside Western Capitals
2018-19 in Review
Record: 40-8-1-1 (1st in Eastlink North)
Playoffs: Lost in six games to Campbellton in the Eastlink North final
Goals For: 247 (1st)
Goals Against: 120 (1st)
Powerplay: 28.6% (1st)
Penalty Kill: 87.9% (1st)

Leading Scorers
Brodie MacArthur (43-67-110)
Kallum Muirhead (35-34-69)
TJ Shea (26-38-64, not returning)

Canadian Tire Cup or bust?
Let’s get this out of the way. The Capitals have the reigning MVP and regular season scoring champ in Brodie MacArthur and the two-time defending Goaltender of the Year in Dominic Tmej. They won the regular season title and captured the Young/Knickle Award for the fewest goals allowed. And then they ran into Tristan Gray in Campbellton and were bounced from the playoffs. This team has a stacked group of returnees at every position. If they aren’t the favourites, it’s hard to say who is.

Scoring in bunches
Summerside have top two scorers back for 2019-20 as MacArthur is joined by Kallum Muirhead. Add in players like Cam Roberts (17-43-60), Zach Thususka (5-7-12), Marc Richard (8-11-19), and Josh MacDonald (8-13-21) and this team will score often. Of course, then there’s Marc-Andre Lecouffe who returns to Summerside after two seasons with Acadie-Bathurst in the QMJHL after a stellar rookie season in the MHL in 2016-17. And these are just the forwards.

From the blueline in
Brodie MacMillan (10-9-19) will anchor a defensive group that boasts three other returnees, 2019 draft pick Zach Biggar, and Theo Citrullo who was acquired from Brockville in the CCHL. And then we have arguably the best goalie tandem in the league. Alex MacVicar (3.23 GAA, .888 save percentage, two shutouts) was picked up from Yarmouth in the off-season. Tmej (2.24 GAA, .929 save percentage), as mentioned above, has been the league’s best goaltender two seasons running. His seven shutouts last season set a new MHL record and he now has 13 for his MHL career.