With a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat, 3-2 win in the title game of the Atlantic Major Midget Championships, the Cape Breton West (CBW) Islanders added to their season for the ages.
And with the victory, they ensured their special season will last another few weeks as they earned a place in the national major midget tournament – the Telus Cup – which is being played in Prince George, B.C., April 24 to 30.
Two goals from captain Jacob Hudson, of Antigonish, and a winning tally from third-year forward Matthew MacNeil, from Margaree Forks, saw the Nova Scotia champs narrowly defeat the New Brunswick champs – the perennially powerful Moncton Flyers – in a game played April 2 in Miramichi.
Both of Hudson’s goals came in the first period while MacNeil’s winner came in the second. Colten Ellis, from River Denys, Cape Breton, picked up the win in goal for the Islanders.
“It was a pretty dramatic game and a nice fashion to win it in … a nice close game,” Islanders head coach Kyle MacDonald said.
“I think it was the two best teams at the tournament so it worked out well … a great game by our guys.”
MacDonald noted they had played the Flyers twice going into the Atlantics, losing both times.
“We certainly viewed them as the favourites,” MacDonald said. “We had three or four game tapes of them and we felt, going into the tournament, they hadn’t seen our best hockey. I think they definitely saw that on the weekend.”
The Islanders also beat the Flyers (5-1) in the round-robin portion of the event where they recorded a 3-1 record. They also beat the P.E.I. champions, the Kensington Wild (6-1), and host Miramichi Rivermen (8-5) while dropping a game to the Newfoundland champs, the St. John’s Maple Leafs, by the score of 4-1.
“It was a really tough tournament,” MacDonald said.
“We were prepared for that going in; we knew rest and taking care of our bodies was going to be really important, especially, if you look at Friday and the tough schedule we had … probably the two toughest teams [Moncton, then St. John’s] of the tournament, within a few hours. The Moncton game was a real emotional one where everybody put their bodies on the line and then, to have to come back a few hours later and play a tough St. John’s team, it’s very draining.”
The drain was seemingly still a factor the following day as the Islanders saw the host Rivermen jump out to a 4-1 lead in a game CBW needed to win to advance to the final.
“I’m very proud of the group coming back; down 4-1 with our season on the line, I think that really sums up our team,” MacDonald said.
“They really hunkered down and came together … really believed in the process, stuck to the game plan and ended up with the win there. In a situation like that, especially where your team is tired and stuff, it’s pretty natural to get cranky and on one another, but that’s not the case with our team and that was a really big win for us, it gave us a chance to play Sunday.”
MacDonald credited the leadership on his team.
“We have great leaders in the room and they show that, even in practices,” he said. “It’s pretty evident; people watch our team and you can see it … this group wants to win and that, definitely, comes from within the room.”
Wearing the ‘C’, Hudson is one of those leaders. He talked about the Miramichi comeback and the Islanders always believing in themselves.
“Against Miramichi, even after getting down a few goals, we never thought that we were going to lose the game,” he said. “We rallied back as a team in the room and then came out strong in the second and scored a couple of goals, and then, in the third, we came out and finished them off.
“We may have underestimated them but after the wake-up call in the first, we answered the bell and came out flying … we came back and took the lead, and played well the rest of the game.”
Another one of the leaders is all-star defenseman Ryan MacLellan from Beaver Meadow, Antigonish County.
“We hadn’t really been down like that before but we have a group of guys who believe; we knew we could come back from that and we did, winning 8-5,” MacLellan said.
The second-year player and Cape Breton Screaming Eagles pick also talked about the depth on his team.
“Every person on the team is a really good player,” he said. “There are many guys who can step up to the plate; a lot of good first years and returning players, including third years … just a lot of guys who can play different roles.”
He talked about his own improvement this year as being greatly helped by those teammates.
“I’ve improved a lot from last year, with the help of Kyle and my teammates,” he said. “The team success contributes to our individual success.”
Hudson, a Moncton Wildcats selection, was asked about his offensive game which was highlighted not only in the Atlantics championship game but also the provincials, where he scored the overtime winner versus Steele Subaru.
“It sometimes comes to a point where you’re just trying to throw everything on net and hope for the best,” he said, a reference to running into hot goaltending and nerve-wracking overtimes.
“But this year, I have been working on my offensive game. I’m sort of a defensive forward but, lately, I’ve been working on my offence; rushing the puck and getting it in deep, as well as working on my shot. And I’ve been able to put the puck in the net more often.”
Preparing for Telus Cup
MacDonald, in the midst of giving the team a bit of a break following the Atlantics, talked about getting ready for the nationals.
“We’ll start looking at it today,” he said on April 5.
“We took a little break … I know the staff took a good 24-hour vacation from it, but we’ll have some ice time and we would like to get, kind of, an organized scrimmage together for our guys; maybe on the weekend, simulate some games situations, stay in game shape.
“And instill in the guys we have a realistic chance in this tournament. We don’t know the competition well yet but I know our team very well; it’s a great group and I know they’ll fit right in there on the national stage,” he said, noting the real focus is on their team.
“That’s what we’ve done all year. We made minor adjusts to certain things, all that stuff needs to happen, but we really focus on dictating the pace on our own and, when we are at our best, we’re a tough team to beat.”
He will not have to do too much talking to instill confidence in his captain.
“This is a once in a lifetime experience,” Hudson said.
“I’m really proud of our team and what we’ve accomplished this year but we’re not done yet; as we like to say, we’re going to go to the Telus Cup and give it all of our best and look for the outcomes we want.
“We’re all excited, we have a tremendous group of players and they all work hard,” he added. We have a good skill set but also a gritty work ethic that most teams would love to have.
“We’re looking to win, we’re not going to take it easy on any teams, feel teams out … we’re going to go up there with the mindset of winning.”