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Local pro hockey: Privateers open playoffs tonight at Danbury

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The rivalry between the Thousand Islands Privateers and Danbury Whalers dates back to two seasons ago as charter members of the Federal Hockey League.

It began in earnest last year with a meeting in the playoffs, but this season, the dislike and heated emotions between the two teams have been heightened to another level.

Several current Privateers, including forward and St. Lawrence University graduate Max Mobley, and defenseman Nik Temple, are former Whalers.

“Absolutely,” Mobley said of the rivalry. “You try not to get too emotional ... but there’s a couple guys who have some strong emotions about it. James Kirkwood got traded here with me — he’s definitely pumped for this series and I am as well.”

In all, five Thousand Islands players skated for Danbury, including four earlier this season, before joining the Privateers.

“We have some guys who came from there who are going to be pretty hungry to beat them,” Temple said.

The Privateers and Whalers meet in Game 1 of their best-of-five FHL semifinal series at 7:35 tonight at Danbury. The Whalers will also host Game 2 and Game 3 on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The series will shift to Watertown for Games 4 and 5, if necessary, at 7:35 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The two teams met in the semifinals last year, with Danbury sweeping the best-of-three series, 2-0.

“It’s carried over from last year,” assistant captain Adam McAllister said of the rivalry. “There’s some bad blood from last year.”

“I played with Danbury last season and I’m pretty motivated this year,” said Temple, who joined the Privateers before this season. “I haven’t won any thing before, so it would be nice for this team to put together a run here.”

Mobley, who signed with the Privateers on Feb. 1, was traded by Danbury to Thousand Islands along with Kirkwood for forward Justin MacDonald on Jan. 9, but a week later, Mobley was promoted to Fayetteville of the Southern Professional Hockey League. After four games with the FireAntz, he was reassigned to the Privateers in early February.

“It’s been great,” said Mobley, who has totaled 12 points, including seven goals, in 11 games with Thousand Islands after posting 25 points (10-15) in 28 games with Danbury. “It’s been a good transition, all the guys have been great and the fans here are fantastic.”

Privateers forward Carlo Ricci and defenseman Alex Redmond also played for the Whalers earlier this campaign.

“It should be a good series,” Danbury coach Phil Esposito said. “They have a lot of our former players over there in their (dressing) room. We’re looking forward to it.”

“Sometimes players just don’t work out in a team’s plans and that’s what happened to some of these guys,” Thousand Islands player-coach Paul Kelly said. “I’ve been there before when I’ve been traded, so you really want to stick it to that team. Hopefully we’ll get it done against Danbury.”

With the demise of Cape Cod and Williamsport during this season, Danbury and Thousand Islands have become geographical rivals and are now the league’s only teams in the East.

The Whalers won nine of 14 meetings this season, helping to create the rivalry.

“It’s definitely developed since we’ve played each other so much down the stretch,” Mobley said. “There’s a little extra giddy-up in our step and there’s more vigor out there. It’s developed into a pretty good rivalry and I think that’s going to give us an extra edge.”

The Privateers have experienced much player movement this year — only a few players remain from their opening-night roster.

“Including myself, of the 19 guys we started with, only have seven of those guys still here,” Kelly said, “but that’s the nature of minor league hockey. But I think we’ve got the right faces here, we have three solid lines, are defense is pretty strong and we’ve got Matt Anthony who is the best goalie in the league.”

The Privateers are led offensively by McAllister and Peter Campbell, both veteran forwards. Campbell stands fourth in the league in points (89) and assists (55) and is sixth in goals. McAllister (32-27-59) is eighth in goals and 12th in points.

Anthony tops the circuit in saves (1,356) and minutes played (2,290:40), is tied for the most shutouts (2) and ranks third in goals-against average (3.61).

Thousand Islands also re-signed veteran defenseman Carter Trevisani, who is on the team’s playoff roster, and will play if needed.

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