2023-2024 Eagles Season Preview
The 2023-24 QMJHL season is almost upon us, and there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic for Cape Breton Eagles fans. Bringing back a solid foundation from last season, the Eagles are looking to mix it up with the elite of the Maritime Division and find success in the post-season.
General manager Sylvain Couturier’s vision is coming together, as the opening night roster features 14 players returning from last season, Couturier’s first in the GM role. And three rookies- forward Callum Aucoin along with defensemen Étienne Desjardins & Lincoln Waugh- saw action as affiliate players in 2022-23.
There are new faces to know with plenty of QMJHL experience. Veteran head coach Louis Robitaille is the new man behind the Cape Breton bench, having led Gatineau to a 49 win campaign last year. (Robitaille will be aided by returning assistant coaches Matt Anthony & Nick MacNeil, while former QMJHL netminder Blade Mann-Dixon joins the staff as the Eagles’ goaltending coach.)
A star from that Olympiques team is joining him in Cape Breton as Cam MacDonald, a near point a game forward, will fill an overage slot. MacDonald’s former Saint John teammate Cole Burbidge will also add offense to the Eagles, after scoring 19 goals as a rookie last season. The future is also the present in Cape Breton in the form of 12th overall draft pick Émile Ricard, a 16 year old forward who looks to bring scoring punch and physicality as he begins his QMJHL career.
MacDonald (Arizona), Burbidge (Ottawa), Cam Squires (New Jersey) and defenseman Brayden Schmitt (Colorado) are presently gaining valuable experience at NHL training camps. Squires was a fourth round choice by the Devils after a prolific sophomore season- becoming the fourth Eagle to ever hit the 30 goal mark in his 17 year old season.
A trio of 19 year olds Antoine Roy, Thomas Begin (acquired from Chicoutimi) and Olivier Houde bring additional grit & experience to the forward group. Last year Houde played in all 68 games, lighting the lamp 18 times and playing in all 68 games. Four other sophomore players are in their 18 year old campaigns- Angelo Fullerton, Jude Campbell, Luke McPhee (acquired from Moncton), and Luke Patterson. Last season, Patterson notched 22 points in 54 games after winning the Telus Cup MVP award the prior season.
Rounding out the forward core to start the season are a pair of 17 year olds in the spotlight- William Shields & Lubos Stahon. Shields, a 2022 first round selection, notched 25 points in 64 contests last year while the import Stahon suited up against men in the Slovak pro ranks.
Unfortunately, the Eagles received sobering news that puts life into perspective, learning that Jacob Newcombe has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma following a medical evaluation. Newcombe, a talented 19 year old forward, certainly has the support of the entire Eagles organization, along with its fans and the hockey community at large. For Jacob, his health is his primary concern, and he looks forward to getting back in the rink with my teammates and playing in front of Eagles fans in the future.
The Eagle blueline is dotted with familiar faces, including a pair of 20 year olds- Zach Biggar brings a bit of everything on the backend while Conor Shortall will again be tasked with playing physical against opposing stars. 18 year old Xavier Daigle led the Eagles in +/- last year as a rookie. Hulking 6’4 Tomas Lavoie will be in the spotlight all season- the #1 pick in the 2022 QMJHL draft will almost certainly hear his name called again come the 2024 NHL draft.
In goal, it’s expected that Nicolas Ruccia will be pushed for starts by Jakub Milota. The fourth year netminder Ruccia has improved his stats each season, while Milota is coming off a silver medal with Czechia at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup after being selected 23rd overall in the CHL import draft.
While there should be no easy games in the Maritime Division, the Eagles hope to battle with Halifax & Moncton for the top spot. Fans won’t have to wait long for a measuring stick game, as the Eagles host the Wildcats to open the season this Friday & Saturday at the Nest. Tickets can be purchased at https://shorturl.at/yIUZ6. They are also available for purchase in person at the Centre 200 box office and by the phone during box office hours at 902-564-2200.