The Charlottetown Islanders training camp is underway with fitness testing Friday and on-ice workouts starting Saturday at the APM Centre in Cornwall.
Head coach Jim Hulton — entering his fourth season at the helm — said there is a lot of anticipation, and he is hoping to carry on with the momentum from last year's surprising playoff run.
"The day I lose my excitement and anticipation in training camp is the day to pack it in," he said.
"From an on-ice perspective we want to make sure that we have that same identity and we build on it. I think we were a blue-collar team that the fans really embraced because of their work ethic and that never-say-die attitude. So those attributes, we're going to strive to find again this year."
Last year going into the season the team wasn't expected to contend, but surprised the league and their fans alike making it to the semi-finals before falling to Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in seven games.
"We really relished the underdog role," Hulton said.
"This year it's going to be a little bit different, I don't think we're going to catch people by surprise."
Hulton said there are 15 or 16 players returning to make up a strong core for the team.
"That tells you we should be better but we have to remember why we were good last year, and it starts with our work ethic and our commitment to one another."
With the success of the past few seasons expectations for the team are growing, but Hulton says he isn't worried about the pressure to win affecting his team.
"I think pressure is what you make of it," he said.
"Last year we talked a lot about just getting into a daily process, don't worry about yesterday, don't worry about tomorrow … I really think that helped us keep our focus throughout the season."
Hulton attributed some of the team's success last season with the support the Islanders got from the community.
"Your fan base becomes your [seventh] man, and especially in junior hockey when momentum and emotion are such a part of it," he said.
"I mean the three overtime wins against Blainville was a magical moment in that building, and one that probably none of us will forget."
He said the team feels the difference when the Eastlink Centre is at capacity, and their play shows that.
"It's a lot more enjoyable to play in front of 3,000 fans than it is in front of 2,000. It's a big difference and I think the momentum helps us win hockey games."
World junior championships
Hulton will be representing Canada as an assistant coach in Vancouver at the upcoming world junior hockey championship, something he has done twice in the past, the last time during the 2004-05 season.
"Like any player or coach or manager that gets the opportunity to represent your country it's an extreme honour and a privilege," he said.
"It's strange to take 14 years off in between … but to get the opportunity to go back, and especially on home soil this year in Vancouver, it's going to be a really memorable occasion."
One notable absence from the Islanders' camp will be defenceman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who Hulton may have the chance to coach at the world juniors.
Hulton said Joseph has been in Arizona training with the Coyotes, who drafted him in the first round of the NHL draft last year.
"They're very hands-on in their development, they had him down there a lot. He's down there currently," Hulton said.
"I didn't think it was worth his while to have to fly back into Charlottetown. It's pretty obvious that he's going to be on our team if he doesn't make the Coyotes."
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With files from Louise Martin