SYDNEY, N.S. — Derek Gentile didn’t know what to expect when he stepped on the ice at the Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown last Saturday.
The Sydney native returned to the Prince Edward Island capital for the first time as a member of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, following a trade from the Islanders on Dec. 17.
“It was strange,” said Gentile of getting dressed in the visiting team’s locker room. “When you do the same thing for a year and have the same routine and you watch your former teammates doing their thing – it was a little strange.”
The 19-year-old right-winger admits he was nervous about the game, but those nerves quickly changed once the contest began.
“I settled down and focused on my game,” said Gentile, who was acquired in a deal for defenceman Noah Laaouan. “It was a special moment, but I’m happy to move on from it.”
As Gentile was introduced prior to the game, he received loud applause from Islanders fans. The love continued following the contest, with fans sticking around to greet him.
“It was a really nice moment to see everyone,” said Gentile. “It really touched my heart to see how many people I impacted during my time with the Islanders.”
“They have quite a fan base there — I’ve heard from dozens of fans. It’s special playing in a small hockey town and it was an honour to make the fans proud.”
Islanders season ticket holder Jake Murphy, better known as HKY Hat Guy in Charlottetown, considered Gentile to be a fan-favourite in P.E.I.
“The people at the rink appreciate everything he did for our team,” said Murphy. “He’s a good kid, I always loved chatting with him at the rink and he will be missed on the team.”
Gentile began his hockey career playing for the Sydney Minor Hockey Association with fellow Screaming Eagle Mitchell Balmas — a former first-round pick of the Islanders in 2014.
Following his minor hockey days, Gentile suited up for the Breton Cougars — now known as the Joneljim Cougars — of the Nova Scotia Major Bantam Hockey League, posting 50 goals and 113 points in 64 games.
Gentile continued his career in Rothesay, N.B. and played 42 games for Rothesay Netherwood School — a prep-school — recording 34 goals and 60 points.
In June 2015, Gentile was selected by the Quebec Remparts in the fourth-round, No. 70 overall, at the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Entry Draft.
After cracking the Remparts’ roster in August 2015, Gentile would play two-and-a-half seasons in Quebec City, before being traded to the Islanders last January.
Although Gentile has many memories of his time in Charlottetown, he will never forget the team’s “magical playoff push,” which saw the Islanders lose to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the league semifinals last season.
“We weren’t the favourite team or the prettiest hockey team, but we found a way and it was a special feeling,” said Gentile. “I hope to carry that experience with me here in Cape Breton.”
Gentile played 81 career games with the Islanders, including 18 playoff games, scoring 24 goals and adding 53 assists, before being traded to the Screaming Eagles last month.
“It was a surreal moment to be traded to your hometown team,” said Gentile. “It feels like a childhood dream coming true.”
It didn’t take Gentile long to begin producing for the Screaming Eagles. Playing on the same line as best friend Balmas, Gentile has two goals and four points in five games.
“I think we realize now that we’re fortunate to have that time together, even though it’s only for a half season,” said Gentile of Balmas. “It’s not often you get to play with a longtime friend in a league like this — it’s something truly special.”
Although he has left many friends behind in Charlottetown, Gentile is looking forward to the remainder of the season and his 20-year-old year with the Screaming Eagles.
“I really hope I can impact the younger generation of kids growing up in Cape Breton as much as I can in the next year and a half,” said Gentile. “I’ve only been with the Eagles for a couple of weeks, but I’ve started to realize how the team really becomes part of the community — I’m really happy.”
Gentile will be in the Screaming Eagles lineup when the team hosts the Islanders on Wednesday. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Centre 200 in Sydney.
- Hometown: Sydney, N.S.
- Age: 19
- Position: Right wing
- He was drafted by the Quebec Remparts in Round 4, No. 70 overall, at the 2015 QMJHL Entry Draft
- He was traded to the Charlottetown Islanders on Jan. 2, 2018 and played 81 games with the P.E.I.-based team
- He was dealt from Charlottetown to Cape Breton on Dec. 17, 2018