PORT HOOD, N.S. -
The puck has dropped on the 2018-19 Nova Scotia Eastlink Major Midget Hockey League season and it comes with a lot of changes in Port Hood – home to the Cape Breton West (CBW) Islanders.
During the off-season, head coach Kyle ‘Duke’ MacDonald left the program to pursue another hockey position and he was replaced Creignish, Inverness County native Nick MacNeil.
MacNeil, whose extensive hockey resume includes time as an Islanders’ player, as well as major junior, U Sport and professional stops, was an assistant on MacDonald’s staff last season.
To fill the vacated assistant role, Antigonish’s Garrett Lambke joined the Islanders’ staff after having spent the previous two seasons as an assistant to Mike Stewart with the major bantam Novas.
Also a former Islanders’ player, Lambke graduated from the program to become an integral part of the Pictou County Jr. ‘A’ Crushers’ line-up for three seasons, which included a Kent Cup league title in his final year.
“Garrett is going to be an awesome coach for us this year and in years to come to,” MacNeil said in a recent conversation with the Casket.
“I think he has a great hockey mind; he is good with the kids and really loves the game of hockey.
“Having had a couple of years’ experience there with the Novas, I’m excited about what he’ll bring this year. He is going to do an excellent job for us.”
Another Antigonisher, second-year forward Darren Waterman, was named captain of this year’s team.
“Darren is a terrific kid, a terrific player,” MacNeil said. “He gives it his all, every night.
“It was an easy choice for us [coaching staff]; he came to camp in terrific shape and was a leader from day one.”
MacNeil noted Waterman was cut his first year of midget; the season a very deep and talented Islanders’ team went on to win the league, the Atlantics and the very first Telus Cup national championship for any Atlantic Canada-based major midget program.
“He came back, made the team last year and, by the end of the year, he is playing as one of our top guys,” MacNeil said.
“I told a lot of the kids who could have been in the last cuts this year, look at what Darren did; at how good of a kid he is, a player he is now, he is someone you guys should look up to. He was an easy choice for captain for us.”
MacNeil talked about his expectations for the season and an identity the Islanders want to establish.
“I think we’re going to take pride in how hard we work,” he said.
“There have been many times this year, already, where we’ve been down, but not out … we’ve been battling back.
“It’s going to be an exciting year for our team. If we play the right way, I’m sure we are going to surprise some teams for sure.”
He broke down the 2018-19 Islanders by position.
“We have two good rookie goaltenders and, I think, our defence will be our backbone this year,” he said. “Three lefties and three righties who can all play the game very well.
“Up front, we have a good mix of some talented players and some really hard working players, so it’s a good mix. We’re definitely going to surprise some teams and I’m very happy with the way we’ve been playing so far.”
One win, one OT loss
The Islanders began their season in Berwick Sept. 15 and 16 where they posted a win and an overtime loss against the Kohltech Valley Wildcats.
The Wildcats erased a three-goal, third-period Islanders’ lead in the Saturday game, and scored in the extra frame, for a 4-3 win.
Waterman had two goals and an assistant in the game while second-year forward Sam Grant had a goal and an assistant.
Matthew Ellis had two assists and Luke Hadley one.
CBW bounced back the following afternoon to record a 4-2 win. Where the third period wasn’t kind to the Islanders the day before, it was much better in this game where they outscored the home-town Wildcats 3-2.
Second-year forward Matthew Raike scored twice, unassisted, in the frame, while Grant and Hadley had the other Islanders’ goals.
Waterman and defenceman Dell Welton picked up assists in the contest.
Rookie goaltender Kenzie MacPhail played both games for CBW; making 37 saves in the OT loss and 38 stops in the win.
“For a team with a lot of new faces, I thought we played very well,” MacNeil said.
“One period we kind of had a little slump there, but that is the kind of things you can expect; you’re going to have those up and down periods, this year, with a younger team.
“But three out of four points on the road for the first weekend, I’m very happy with that.”
The Islanders are at home this weekend where they entertain the UPS Store South Shore Mustangs for a pair of contests.
Saturday’s (Sept. 22) puck drop at the Al MacInnis Sports Centre is 6 p.m.; while on Sunday the actions gets underway at 12 noon.
The Islanders are back on the road Wednesday evening where they’ll take on their Cape Breton rivals, the Tradesmen.
The game, at the Membertou Sports and Wellness Centre, begins at 7 p.m.