Pascal Vincent sounds more like a zoo-keeper than a head coach when he talks about the upcoming Battle of Nova Scotia.
“I don’t want to compare my players to animals, but their intensity is the same as a bunch of hungry animals,” the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles bench boss said. “All I’m going to do is open the gates and let them have fun.”
In other words, fasten your seatbelts: The Screaming Eagles-Halifax Mooseheads best-of-seven quarter-final — which opens tomorrow at the Metro Centre — could be a dandy.
It’s the first playoff meeting of the provincial rivals since 2003, and only the second time in a decade both teams have posted 85-point campaigns.
Only three points separated the teams in the regular season, while the season series was split at four wins each, with Cape Breton outscoring Halifax 29-26.
The Eagles, written off for dead in the pre-season after James Sheppard left for the NHL, will wear the familiar underdog tag against the Mooseheads, an offensive powerhouse that has been pegged as the East Division’s team to beat.
“We have to be honest — we don’t have a single player drafted into the NHL, a 16-year-old rookie (Olivier Roy) in net, and a 17-year-old drafted in the fourth round (Mathieu Brodeur) on our top defence pairing,” Vincent said. “I want them to enjoy it, be the best they can be, and keep amazing me.”
The Screaming Eagles are powered by centre Dean Ouellet, voted the division’s hardest worker, best captain, best over-ager and best on power plays in a Metro Halifax poll. Jordan Clendenning (76 points), Chris Culligan (68), Joey Haddad (62) and Robert Slaney (55) give them two solid scoring lines.
Roy has sparkled, while veteran blue-liners Beau Prokopetz and Alex Lamontagne give opposing forwards fits.
The Mooseheads are well aware their hands are full.
“They work really hard — they may not be blessed with that much skill wise, but they make up for it with their hard work and effort,” Mooseheads defenceman Graham Bona. “The intensity level is going to be jacked up and we’ve got to match it.”