The Novas will return to the ice this weekend with a pair of home games in Nova Scotia Major Bantam Hockey League regular season action.
They will host the Truro Bearcats Saturday (Jan. 6), at 5:30 p.m., at the Antigonish Arena, while the Wear Well Bombers will be the opponent Sunday (Jan. 7), at 12:30 p.m., at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre.
“They are two important games for us,” veteran head coach Mike Stewart said.
The Novas start the post-Christmas portion of the regular season with an 8-12 mark.
“If you look at where we are at – and you look at the roster at the beginning of the year – I think we should be very happy with what we have accomplished to date,” Stewart said, when asked about the first half of the campaign.
“I think we have surpassed our Christmas goal – by quite a bit. I think a lot of teams are surprised at the quality of play and the competition that we are providing them – that’s from the goaltender right on out.”
Stewart described his team as “young and learning.”
“We are not making as many mistakes as we did earlier,” he said.
“It is a testament to the kids believing in what the message is, and working hard to keep improving and moving forward.”
There was considerable turnover with the roster, with only four players – defenseman Dylan Chisholm, forwards Luke Gould and Landyn Pitts, and goaltender Kenzie MacPhail – returning from last season’s team.
“We had a few APs (affiliate players) – from Bantam ‘AA’ who played with us last year – crack the line-up this year. We also had a significant number of players come up from Pee Wee ‘AAA,’” Stewart said.
“We also had a little bit of an influx from outside our catchment area – for the first time.
“With that, I think that the message was, if you don’t come in shape and don’t come ready to play for the Novas, we will go elsewhere to find talent to field a competitive team,” he added.
Stewart described such choices as “tough.”
“No coach likes making those types of decisions,” he said.
“I think it is a lesson that everybody has to learn at some point in their hockey career.
“Hopefully, our players understand that and, hopefully, the message is being sent to the teams and players that are trying out for our hockey team that’s the direction we will go,” Stewart added.
The Novas, with 19 points, have 10 regular season game remaining.
“We have played some of the top competition – we have our three games against the [first place] Landworks Gulls, for example, played,” Stewart said.
One of their victories was over the second-place Bearcats – the team they will host to launch the second half this weekend.
“I don’t think it is unrealistic for us to finish the year with 26 to 30 points – looking at what we have left,” Stewart said.
The team will also play in the annual Ice Jam tournament.
“We really just want to keep focussed on improving and getting better each and every day that we are on the ice,” Stewart said.
“I think that’s our focus and if the kids continue to believe in getting better every day and working together – believe in each other and play for each other – we will be more than successful in reaching that goal.”