A couple of Matthews led the way as the Cape Breton West Major Midget Islanders earned their way into the second round of the Nova Scotia Eastlink Major Midget Hockey League playoffs, with a convincing 7-3 victory over the Kohltech Valley Wildcats.
The win, in a game played March 9 at the Kings Mutual Century Centre in Berwick, secured a 3-1 series win for the Islanders who move on to face regular season champs, the Cole Harbour Wolfpack.
Matthew Ellis had a five-point game for the Islanders with two goals and three assists, while Matthew Raike recorded a hat-trick and added an assist.
Lewis Taylor and Daniel LeBlanc potted the other CBW goals with LeBlanc adding an assist.
Daniel Gillis picked up two helpers in the contest while Sam Grant, Neil MacLean, Dell Welton, Luke Hadley, Jason Johnson, Dave Matthews and captain Darren Waterman each recorded one assist.
Kenzie MacPhail made 23 saves to earn the win.
A day earlier at the same Berwick rink, rookie Lowell MacDonald was the hero as he scored at the 2:08 mark in double-overtime as the Islanders went up 2-1 in the series.
MacDonald also had CBW’s lone regulation time goal as they won the low-scoring contest 2-1.
Raike, MacLean, Welton and Waterman earned assists on MacDonald’s tallies.
MacPhail made 28 saves in the contest.
Islanders first-year head coach Nick MacNeil talked about his team bouncing back after dropping the first game in the series, at home in Port Hood March 2, 3-2 in overtime.
“We played well enough to win the first game of the series, we just came up a little short,” MacNeil said. “And then Sunday (game two, March 3 in Port Hood), when we came to the rink, we had good energy, we were confident, positive. After the first period, I think it was 1-1, but between the periods, we just had the talk, [saying] ‘keep rolling - it’s coming,’ and the offence came out full force in the second period,” he said, referring to a game that ended up a 10-2 rout by the Islanders.
“And it was the same thing for last Saturday’s game; an average start and then, in the second period, we just came out on fire.”
MacNeil said confidence played a big role in how the Islanders were able to win three straight against a good Wildcats team which finished a seed higher than them (fourth to CBW’s fifth) in the regular season.
“It’s good to see,” MacNeil said. “They’re believing in one another, we are getting timely saves when we need them from Kenzie … I’m very proud of the effort on the weekend.”
Now up, the number one seeded Wolfpack who finished a healthy 11 points in front of regular season runner-up, the Halifax McDonald’s.
“They’re a very deep team, they have two good goalies, deep on ‘D’ and are good up front; so we’re going to have to be as consistent as we can, every time we’re on the ice,” MacNeil said.
“We need to limit the turnovers on the blue-lines because they’re going to counter right back and with an odd man rush, chances are the puck is going to the back of our net.
“I think the big thing is, we just have to keep the game as simple, and play as hard, as we can.”
Playing hard means skating hard and constantly moving the legs.
“The big thing is; we’re a team that skates really well and when we fore-check, and put pressure on their ‘D’, good things can happen for us,” MacNeil said.
Round two is also a best-of-five series but, unlike the first round where the higher seeded Wildcats chose to start on the road with the three remaining games, if necessary, at home, the Wolfpack has opted to start at home, giving the Islanders a potential game four and five at home, along with the guaranteed game three.
The series begins Saturday (March 16) evening at Cole Harbour Place’s Scotia 1 rink, with a 7:40 p.m. puck drop.
After a little delay in announcing location and time, game two will be played Sunday at East Hants Sportsplex in Lantz; scheduled for 2 p.m.
When the series shifts back to Port Hood and the Al MacInnis Sports Centre the following weekend, it begins with a 7 p.m. Friday (March 22) evening match-up.
Games four and five, if necessary, will be played Saturday (3 p.m. start) and Sunday with a noon-time puck drop.
In the other league semi-final, it’s the perennial HRM rivals, the McDonald’s and Dartmouth’s Steele Subaru Major Midgets, facing off.