SYDNEY, N.S. — When Derek Gentile began his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League career five years ago, the last thing on his mind was his final season.
Fellow teammates would tell the Sydney native to embrace his time in the league because it would go by fairly quickly, but Gentile never thought much about it.
Until this year.
This season will mark the 20-year-old’s final year of major junior hockey and, although he doesn’t know where the road will take him in the future, he’s enjoying this last ride.
“It definitely flew by,” said Gentile. “I’ve had so many people tell me to really appreciate the time and I’m trying to soak it all in.”
Gentile began his hockey career playing in the Sydney Minor Hockey Association.
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., where he 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 QMJHL 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 Charlottetown Islanders in January 2018.
Gentile played 81 career games with the Islanders, including 18 playoff games, scoring 24 goals and adding 53 assists, before being traded to Cape Breton last December.
During his time in Charlottetown, Gentile was part of the Islanders club which went on a lengthy playoff run in 2018, led by players like Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Cameron Askew and Pascal Aquin.
The team would eventually lose to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the league semifinal.
Gentile believes this year’s edition of the Eagles has similarities to the 2017-18 Islanders team but he hopes to see the Sydney-based franchise go further.
“When you have that kind of feeling with a group, it’s pretty special,” said Gentile. “We had that same kind of feeling when I was in P.E.I. where you just felt that the year wasn’t going to be over.
“This year it’s the same feeling; I know it’s only early and we will continue to build an identity and a culture, but it’s headed in that direction.”
In 17 games this season, Gentile has recorded five goals and eight assists for 13 points along with 12 penalty minutes and 60 shots on goal.
Gentile is currently on the team’s third line with Liam Kidney and fellow overager Shaun Miller.
“I’m a little left out not being from East Hants,” laughed Gentile about his linemates' mainland roots. “They’re good fellas and they’re honest guys, so it’s easy to play with guys who are showing up every day and playing their game every night.”
Growing up, Gentile recalls attending many Eagles games as a fan and remembers various franchise moments including Chris Culligan’s penalty shot overtime winner in Game 3 of the 2007 QMJHL semifinals against the Val-d’Or Foreurs in Sydney.
“You always remember the local guys and the guys you always looked up to and the guys who were at your minor hockey practices,” said Gentile. “I hope to be the same kind of guy for the younger players in our community today.”
Gentile admits there couldn’t be a better way to end his major junior career than suiting up for the team he once cheered for as a child.
“It’s one of the better outcomes I could have thought of,” said Gentile. “Not only to be here at home in my 20-year-old season, but to be here when we have such a strong and unique team, it makes it even more special."
Being a local player, Gentile knows all eyes will be on him as the season progresses but he understands what the hometown fans are looking for fromf him.
“On any given night I know the majority of the people who are in the rink and I think it’s a good thing.” said Gentile. “It’s a pressure that strives me to be better and bring a good attitude and try to create a winning atmosphere within the team.”
Gentile hasn’t thought much about the end of the season and is only concerned with the task at hand right now — helping the Eagles win as many games as possible.
“Knowing it’s your final season is always in the back of my mind, but you try not to think about it too much,” said Gentile. “Whether it’s university hockey or professional hockey, we will figure that out in April, May or June, but right now the Eagles are the most important."
Cape Breton is currently the highest-scoring team in the QMJHL, averaging 4.76 goals per game, while being one of the top clubs in the league at even strength hockey.
Gentile and the Eagles will be on the ice Saturday night when they host the Islanders at 7 p.m. at Centre 200. Cape Breton will also play former Eagle Isiah Campbell and the Drummondville Voltigeurs on Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Sydney venue.
BIO BOX - DEREK GENTILE
• Hometown: Sydney, N.S.
• Age: 20
• Position: Right wing
• Team: Cape Breton Eagles
• QMJHL Draft: Selected by the Quebec Remparts in Round 4, No. 70 overall, at the 2015 draft
• NHL Draft: Undrafted
• Traded: To Cape Breton on Dec. 17, 2018, from the Charlottetown Islanders
CAREER STATISTICS - DEREK GENTILE
• 2012-13 – Breton Cougars (major bantam) – 31 Games Played 19 Goals – 24 Assists – 43 Points
• 2013-14 – Breton Cougars (major bantam) – 33 Games Played – 31 Goals – 39 Assists – 70 Points
• 2014-15 – Rothesay Netherwood School (prep school) – 42 Games Played – 34 Goals – 26 Assists – 60 Points
• 2015-16 – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) – 54 Games Played – 6 Goals – 14 Assists – 20 Points
• 2016-17 – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) – 66 Games Played – 22 Goals – 13 Assists – 35 Points
• 2017-18 – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) – 37 Games Played – 14 Goals – 19 Assists – 33 Points
• 2017-18 – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL) – 30 Games Played – 9 Goals – 19 Assists – 28 Points
• 2018-19 – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL) – 33 Games Played – 7 Goals – 26 Assists – 33 Points
• 2018-19 – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL) – 30 Games Played – 8 Goals – 14 Assists – 22 Points
• 2019-20 – Cape Breton Eagles (QMJHL) – 17 Games Played – 5 Goals – 8 assists – 13 Points