PREVIEW: Hurricanes aim at three-peat with new coach, new offence

By Thomas Becker. 

Charlottetown, PE – As the rain trickled down on the turf, coach Kyle Quinlan gathered his squad to center field and offered words of encouragement, while delivering a message of what’s to come.

“Now it’s for real.”

On Saturday afternoon, the Holland College Hurricanes Football Club unveiled their new roster during an inter-squad scrimmage at the Credit Union Place Turf Field in Summerside, where they ironed out the final details in preparation for the season ahead.

“We had a 12 day training camp, so guys are getting fired up. When we get out there we’ll be ready,” said linebacker Alex Fitzpatrick.

Coming off back to back Atlantic Football League championships, the Hurricanes will have their work cut out for them, as opponents will surely have the Hurricanes clearly in their sights, looking to dethrone the three-time champions.

“Expectations are high considering the (undefeated) season we had last year, but one of the things we have to realize is we have to focus on each game at a time,” Fitzpatrick said.

It’s no secret, the Hurricanes are eager to play meaningful downs again as they get set to make their season debut against the Dalhousie University Tigers in Halifax on September 19.

“We came out relatively healthy and have grown together as a team in a short period of time. I know the guys are definitely sick of lining up across one another so they’re excited to get into real game action. We will find out right away how ready we are in a tough road matchup at Dal to start the season,” Quinlan said.

Opponents will have to adjust quickly and game plan for a new Hurricanes’ offence that finds itself in a transitional period. Gone are veteran playmakers Christian Hackney at quarterback and the duo of Eugene McMinns and Jaylen McRae at wide receiver.

Instead, the Hurricanes will boast a balanced offensive approach that utilizes both the running and passing game, Quinlan said.

“The best offences have the ability to establish a run threat while also having a successful passing attack so that is definitely the goal.”

Despite the challenges of fielding a new offence, with an as yet unnamed starting quarterback, Quinlan is excited to usher in a new era of Hurricanes football.

“There are a lot of new faces that I am excited to see live in their first AFL action.”

Leading the way is running back Carson Halliwell, who is primed for a big year after coming off a devastating leg injury last season. He’ll be joined by receivers Jeff Hillier and Steve Knapton, who look to take over the reins of an offence that scored at will against opponents, averaging 36.6 points per game last season.

Halliwell said the offence is focused more than ever, and ready to compete for a championship of their own.

“Coach Quinlan has brought a more strict, more fast paced environment and I feel like we’re more tight-knit than we were last year by far.  A lot faster, a lot stronger and just more prepared.”

The defence, led by defensive coordinator John Thomson, is expected to transition smoothly with very little player turnover, and a man coverage scheme that paid dividends last season.

“We’re glad to have the same defensive coordinator back, obviously it worked well for us last year,” Fitzpatrick said.

Joining Fitzpatrick are defensive lineman Scott Leeman and defensive back Jay Dearborn, who’ll be counted on to match the defensive intensity that led the team to championship status.

The defensive unit ranked first in the league allowing just 16.4 points per game in 2014, a figure Quinlan hopes to build on for this season.

“I think very highly of defensive coordinator John Thomson and his defensive scheme. He is an expert in his field and will once again bring a hard nosed, high pressure defense to our team,” he said.

With the new offence poised to keep teams off balance and a championship-caliber defence expected to wreak havoc once again, there’s a lot to be hopeful for when the games count this weekend. The key now is finding creative ways to use these pieces in an effort bring a championship back to Charlottetown.

“It is very challenging to beat a team three times in one season so we will need to continue to progress our schemes week to week to keep teams guessing. As is the case with all football leagues, we need to stay healthy and be peaking at the right time in order to bring home that championship.”


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