PORT HOOD, N.S. - There has been a coaching change in Port Hood.
Kyle ‘Duke’ MacDonald, after two of the most successful years in the history of the Cape Breton West (CBW) Major Midget Islanders’ franchise, has stepped down as head coach to pursue a full-time hockey position. That success includes the Atlantic region’s first ever national title – a Telus Cup – in 2017.
Replacing the two-time Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League (NSMMHL) coach of the year is former CBW Islander, major junior, U Sports and professional player Nick MacNeil, who spent last season as an assistant coach on MacDonald’s staff.
An Islanders’ release goes into more details about MacNeil’s extensive playing career.
“He is a former assistant captain with the Major Midget Islanders and, during the 2005-06 season, the Islanders finished the regular season in first place,” the release notes about the Creignish, Inverness County, native.
“He is also a former draft pick and captain of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles where he enjoyed four great seasons. After finishing his junior career, Nick joined the UNB Varsity Reds where he was instrumental in the Varsity Reds winning two CIS (now U Sports) national titles. Nick was recognized as one of the top players in the CIS when he was named to Team Canada which won a World University Games’ gold medal, in Trentino, Italy, in 2013.
The release also noted MacNeil’s pro experience in the East Coast Hockey League; three years split between the Bakersfield Condors and Norfolk Admirals.
“Nick also attended the St. Louis Blues’ development camp on two occasions and played with the Blues’ rookies in the NHL rookie tournament in Traverse City, Michigan,” the release notes.
“Nick will be an outstanding head coach, is anxious to build on the Islanders’ ‘winning culture’ and lead the team back to the Telus Cup. Everyone involved with the Islanders is anxious to start working with Nick and getting the journey started.”
MacNeil shared his excitement when talking to the Casket July 5.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “The last couple of years has been awesome here; I think the organization is getting a lot more respect around the league and that’s all about our players.
“Back when I played midget, to go to Halifax and win a game, it was tough. Now, when we go to (HRM), we know we can compete with those teams and beat them. That’s, kind of, the culture that has changed. It has been huge the last two years, obviously, and I’m just going to try and guide and motivate the guys as much as I can.”
As for influences for his coaching style, MacNeil mentioned a former NHL coach of the year, Robbie Ftorek, who was the bench boss in Norfolk, and the reigning American Hockey League coach of the year, Pascal Vincent, who coached him in junior.
“Sixty-five-years-old, still loves the game,” he said of Ftorek. “He wasn’t too complicated with everything; a simple, hard-working coach who the guys all respected.
“I think that’s what the motto is in Cape Breton West; we’re a hard-working team. Most of us come from small towns, so that’s the culture anyway.
“He was excellent strategic-wise,” MacNeil said of Vincent, who, he added, learned from Stanley Cup winning coach (with Colorado in 2001) Bob Hartley.
As for MacDonald, MacNeil said he was “excellent” to work with and he doesn’t think he gets enough credit for leading CBW to the Telus Cup.
“He was terrific with the kids,” he said. “Stern with them, sometimes, but, obviously, you have to do that as a coach and it worked. His dedication to the game, love of the game; he did such a good job.
“I was really impressed with the way he handled everything last year and I wish him all the best. It’s big shoes to fill, but I’ll certainly do my best.”
Islanders’ president Brian MacInnis wished MacDonald well in a released statement.
“Kyle gave us two outstanding seasons, where he raised the bar to a new height,” the statement read.
“Certainly winning a Telus Cup for the Cape Breton West Islanders franchise was a thrill beyond words; a thrill felt not only by Islanders’ fans, near and far, but by everyone with any connection to the area.
“Kyle made a dream come through for the players, parents, executive members, sponsors and everyone who was ever associated with the Islanders. We wish Kyle and Jenna all the best in their new endeavor.”
MacDonald's new position is as technical director with TASA (Timberlea Amateur Sports Association) minor hockey, which is based out of the St. Margaret's Centre in Upper Tantallon.