The Cape Breton West Islanders have gone back-to-back with Chronicle Herald East Coast Ice Jam tournament championships.
The Islanders captured their second title, in as many years, with a 6-5 win over league rivals, the Halifax McDonald’s, Jan. 14, at the BMO Centre in Bedford.
A key five-on-three power-play late in the third period produced two goals for CBW, but it still came down to a last minute stand by the club as Halifax super-rookie Alex Drover kept his team in the game with a rare three-on-five shorthanded goal and another with just under two minutes to play.
“It’s hard to let your emotions get too high or too low but you have to stick with it,” Islanders’ goaltender Ewan MacDonald, from Antigonish, said, as his team celebrated after the game.
“Guys did a great job today blocking shots and all the little things so, at the end of the day, all of that pays off. It’s a real positive for our group, what we’ve accomplished … just a great job by everybody this weekend.”
MacDonald talked about a key when facing the McDonald’s, who lead the Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League (SNMMHL) standings, noting Drover in particular.
“They have a couple of really good rookies up front in Drover and [Ethan] Landry, you always have to be aware when those guys are on the ice,” the second-year netminder, who was key to the late-game stand, said.
“They can make quick plays, like you saw today; so when they’re on the ice, you have to keep an eye out for them.”
The Islanders’ own sniper, Stephen Fox, who leads the NSMMHL in points and goals, scored twice in the game – including the game-winner – while adding an assist.
Rookie forward Chase Ellis scored the Islanders’ first two goals while veteran Fearghus MacDonald scored once and added two assists.
Calum MacPherson scored CBW’s other goal while Jack Morris and Draper MacLean had two assists each and Darren Waterman and Sean Stewart one each, with Stewart’s coming on the winning goal.
“I think Fearghus MacDonald sent that back to our D-man, Sean Stewart, and he really threaded the needle through a couple of guys and it got on the far side; it went right out front for me so I had a nice easy goal there,” Fox said about his second goal, which ended up being the winner.
“We’re having a good year so far and this tournament just goes to prove what we can do,” Fox, from Newtown, Inverness County, added. “We went 7-0 and played a lot of good teams, it just shows how good we can be.”
Islanders’ captain Liam MacKinnon, from Aberdeen, Inverness County, talked about how the tournament helped his team come together.
“I think we really gelled as a team over the weekend,” MacKinnon said.
“We’ve been having a pretty good season before this, but never really formed. I think this weekend we found our groove; I like what I see moving forward from this weekend.”
The veteran recalled the similarities to last year when the Islanders used their Ice Jam championship as a springboard towards a provincial, Atlantic and national championship.
“Last year, we were struggling a little bit and then we discussed it, and bounced back with this tournament,” the rugged rearguard said. “So there is, definitely, a little bit of déjà vu for sure … and, definitely, a good kind of déjà vu, considering what happened last year, so it’s pretty exciting.”
Islanders’ head coach Kyle MacDonald said it was an “incredible weekend,” which really started with a late-Thursday afternoon game versus Newbridge Academy.
“These are great team builders; guys are tired, chafing, bruised up, but they continued to come together, stick together and, really, it’s an incredible win for us,” the second-year coach said.
“And a big confidence booster … it’s a similar situation to last year when we won this tournament; that gave our group the belief they could come out on top. All the top teams from Atlantic Canada are here this weekend and, with a grueling schedule – playing seven games in four days – we came out on top. So a lot of confidence can be built from that.”
The seven wins include two against perennial Atlantic power the Moncton Flyers; one in CBW’s final round robin game and then, the following day, in the first playoff-round game.
“I think that win really energized our group; that second win was, by far, the best team game we’ve played all season,” Kyle MacDonald said of the 5-2 victory.
“We played inspired hockey. Guys were diving in front of pucks; all the stuff that it takes to win games like that … I was just really proud of the group this weekend.”
The Islanders beat Newbridge in their first game led by MacPherson’s two goals.
Ellis and MacLean each had a goal and an assist in the win with MacDonald in goal.
Veteran defensemen Stewart and Jack Morris each recorded a goal and an assist as the Islanders down Dennis GM Western Kings from Newfoundland, 3-1, in their second game.
Rookie Ryan Miller earned the win in goal for CBW.
The Islanders’ third game was the first win over Moncton; MacLean had a goal and an assist in the win while MacDonald was in goal.
Fox had a hat-trick and an assist in the big 5-2 win over Moncton; the game his head coach referred to as the team’s best ‘team-game’ so far this season, while MacKinnon added three assists and MacDonald was between the pipes.
In the quarter-final, the Islanders knocked off league rival, the Valley Wildcats, 4-2.
Ellis had a goal and two assists while rookie defenseman Dell Welton scored once and added an assist.
Miller picked up his second win of the tournament in goal.
The semi-final was a nail-biting 2-1 decision over the Northern Moose from New Brunswick, with Fox tallying the winner, with an assist by Luke Hadley, late in the second period.
Fearghus MacDonald scored the other goal with Fox and Morris assisting. MacDonald earned the win in goal.
MacPherson was named a first-team all-star for the tournament and Morris to the second time. The selections were made by Quebec Major Junior Hockey League scouts.