With the scored tied in their East Coast Ice Jam semi-final game versus the Northern Moose of New Brunswick, Cape Breton West Islanders’ forward Stephen Fox carried the puck into the opposition zone; tactically skating at cruise-speed. The Moose defensemen drifted backwards, matching Fox’s leisurely pace. Their first mistake.
Around the top of slot, the leading scoring in the Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League (NSMMHL) zipped a quick wrist shot – with almost zero back-swing – catching the now used-for-a-screen defensemen and Moose goaltender by surprise; 2-1 Islanders – game over.
A little more scouting on Fox may have told the Moose defenders not to allow the sniper the time and space they did; that scouting could have happened during last spring’s Telus Cup final as Fox emerged as one of the Islanders’ game stars, with two goals in their 5-4 overtime win over Quebec perennial power, the Saint-Francois Blizzard, to become national champs; a first for any Atlantic Canada based major midget team.
Obviously the South Shore Lumberjacks of the Maritime Hockey League (MHL) were paying attention. The Bridgewater-based team drafted Fox with the first overall pick in the MHL draft, which took place not long after Fox and his CBW teammates returned home from Prince George, B.C., with the Telus hardware.
“I went up there; I told them I would go up to see how I would like it, decide where I should go,” Fox said, speaking a day (Jan. 15) after he and the Islanders won their second straight Ice Jam title, by defeating Halifax 6-5 in the final. Fox had two goals in that one, including the game-winner.
“Come back another year or stay up there; the coaches and I figured it was best for me to come back to the West for another year,” the Newtown, Inverness County native said, agreeing that it looks like a great decision now.
Fox’s total of 54 points in 27 games (as of Jan. 18) leads Halifax’s Alex Drover, who has played four more games, by three. His 35 goals top the second most goals, Drover again, by 10.
The Islanders, expected to see a drop-off after being the best team in the country last season, have hung with Halifax and Dartmouth and are still within shouting distance of first place, with games in-hand on both teams.
Fox talked about his development.
“All that experience we [gained] last year has really helped me this year,” he said. “Being up in Prince George and all the tournaments we won, I think that helped me quite a bit and this year it’s showing.”
As for a particular skill he focused on, he talked about the aforementioned shot.
“Last year, towards the end of the year, I found my shot was getting better so, in the summer, I continued to work on that a lot,” he said.
“This year, my shot has been helping me a lot. I already had quite a bit of speed, which is good to have, but my shot, now, is helping me more. And I’m finding a lot of spots where I can shoot the puck.”
Impressive numbers like Fox’s can only be achieved by finding success consistently, whether in the friendly-confines of the Al MacInnis Sports Centre in Port Hood or in the hostile arenas around the NSMMHL, which grow more hostile as playoffs near.
“Usually, it’s just not overthinking things,” Fox said on his strategy to remain consistent.
“Wherever or whoever we’re playing, if we need a goal, I’m going to try and go out there and score. I don’t overthink where I’m at, or if I’m feeling a little tired, or if I’m not as prepared as everyone else. We need a goal so I’m going to try and get one.”
The mentality extends to who he is playing with as Fox has found success with veterans such Calum MacPherson and Fearghus MacDonald, or newcomers such as Chase Ellis and Draper MacLean.
“Playing with Fearghus and Calum, both really good offensive guys, has helped me a lot,” Fox said. “They’ve helped me score and add more points. But no matter who I’m with, all the guys on our team, they can get me the puck as well and I can get them the puck in different situations to find success. I think, no matter who plays with who, we can still put the puck in the net.”
Fox is looking to continue his two-point per-game pace and lead the Islanders through another long playoff run.
“What really matters is for us to just keep winning,” he said. “The last little while we’ve been doing really well, so I would like to continue just helping us win.
“And, for the team, just continue to mature as we get to the playoffs. It’s coming down to the end of the season; the effort has to be there every shift.”