They have knocked on the door over the past several seasons, but now the St. F.X. X-Men want to break it down when it comes to capturing a U Sports hockey championship.
“They are excited – ready to go,” veteran head coach Brad Peddle said of what he called a “veteran group.”
“We have unfinished business, that’s for sure,” he added.
Considering there are several players who have played at nationals – some on more than one occasion – Peddle suggested the X-Men “know what it takes” to earn a spot to vie for a national crown.
“It is hard and tough [the path], so they know what it is all about,” he said.
Noting the X-Men have competed in the past five year-end tournaments, collecting two silvers and one bronze medal, they are a program that is “strongly motivated.”
That experience will also be a key to preventing the X-Men from looking beyond first skating to a strong season in the highly competitive AUS.
“You have to have an end goal, but we also have a group that understands that you cannot look too far ahead,” Peddle said, adding the league is “way too tough” to fall into that pattern.
“It may be a cliché, but it is a week-to-week process.”
This season, he explained, one of the focuses will be striving for “more consistent” play.
“We had too many ups and downs last year,” Peddle offered, noting a let-down in one of a 30-game campaign can be the difference in securing a coveted top-two spot and a first-round playoff bye.
Quality not quantity
Considering their veteran flavour, the X-Men did not make many additions to the line-up.
Jeremiah Addison, a 2015 Montreal Canadiens’ draft pick, is expected “to make an impact.”
“He fits our style of play,” Peddle said, describing the forward as a “gritty, two-way” player who is expected to be an offensive contributor.
The second recruit up-front is “very well known” to local X-Men fans, according to Peddle.
“He only knows how to play one way and that’s hard,” he said of Antigonish native and former Cape Breton Screaming Eagles’ captain Declan Smith.
“We are so excited to have him and I know he is equally excited to have an opportunity to play at home,” Peddle added.
He said Smith is “hard to play against,” describing him as a “hard-nosed guy.”
Roddie Sandilands, a QMJHL teammate of Smith’s, will be a newcomer to the X-Men defense corps.
“He is a really good solid defenseman who will provide us with great depth,” Peddle said, adding Sandilands will “do anything to win.”
Between the pipes, Joseph Raaymakers has joined the team from the OHL’s London Knights.
“He was one of the top goaltenders in the country,” Peddle said, noting the puck stopper just returned from the Florida Panthers’ NHL camp.
Considering the X-Men lost “one of the best,” in former AUS most valuable player Chase Marchand, the head coach said the program is solid in that area.
Antigonish native Blade Mann-Dixon returns for his sophomore season to team-up with Raaymakers.
“We have a strong tandem,” Peddle said, noting the former Halifax Moosehead had a “good first year” as the back-up to Marchand.
Junior Justin Laforest will round out the goaltending trio, which the head coach said has already established “great chemistry.”
Peddle said everyone on the roster – returning and new – will be part of the X-Men’s commitment to a “team concept.”
“We are not going to get away from what we have done over the last number of years,” he added of what he described as a “group buy-in” that features a balanced roster and attack.
“Everyone on our team has to play a part for us to be successful.”
Having said that, he noted “your best players have to be your best players.”
“They have to lead the way, if we want to take that next step,” Peddle said, while talking about the “veteran core” that needs to be at the forefront for the Blue and White.
That group includes the likes of Matt Needham, Bryson Cianfrone and Sam Studnicka – up front – along with defensemen Cole MacDonald, Santino Centorame and Daniel Robertson.
“Those leadership guys will have to be there to help our first-year players adjust to our league and progress,” Peddle noted.
And, returning for his fifth season will be Dartmouth native Mark Tremaine.
“It was somewhat unexpected, but it is certainly a bonus when you have your captain and MVP back,” Peddle noted.
During the Sept. 17 interview, Peddle noted the X-Men had put in two-and-half weeks of “hard practice” during training camp.
“The boys want to get things started,” he said.
The X-Men will drop the puck for the AUS regular season Wednesday (Sept. 25), on the road, versus the Dalhousie Tigers.
The Blue and White will host the UPEI Panthers in their home opener Saturday (Sept. 28).
Opening face-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Antigonish Arena.