It was an auspicious evening for the players of the newly-assembled Eskasoni Eagles, Sept. 21. It marked the first regular season game the newest team in the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey league played, at the Antigonish Arena.
The occasion was marked by a ceremonial puck drop that was overseen by the chiefs of two First Nations, who are proud of the step forward a team for Eskasoni means for the communities that wish to participate in the league.
“It’s amazing to see Eskasoni written on their jerseys,” Chief Leroy Denny of Eskasoni First Nation said. “It’s a little surreal for me, and an amazing feeling to know they are now officially a team in the league.”
Denny emphasized how satisfying it is, as chief, to see Eskasoni finally have a team in the league, noting it is a good sign for Indigenous communities around Nova Scotia, to see such a milestone come to fruition.
“I think it’s a sign of reconciliation,” Denny said. “It breaks barriers. It’s a proud moment, and it belongs to the community. There were a lot of fundraisers, and there are many community sponsors who made this possible.”
Denny said he hopes to take the season “one game at a time,” and is grateful, regardless of how the Eagles fare this season, to see a local team representing the community.
Chief Paul (PJ) Prosper of Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation also made the trip to Antigonish on Friday evening, to be part of the momentous occasion, saying, “It’s historic for the Eskasoni Mi’kmaw community, and we wanted to show our support for such a huge accomplishment.”
Prosper noted he was honoured to be invited to witness the Eagles’ first game, emphasizing that “it’s important that Eskasoni took that first step, in creating that inroad to the league, setting an example for other communities and Mi’kmaw youth to think about.”
In their historic inaugural regular season game, the Eagles dropped a 6-3 decision to the Antigonish Farmers’ Mutual Junior Bulldogs, but Bulldog head coach David Synishin noted the new team proved to be a formidable challenge early in the game for the Bulldogs.
“I think early on, defensively, we weren’t looking after the puck, and they took advantage of that. They have a number of players upfront who are skilled, so it was very close early on,” Synishin said. “We got out legs later, and started playing better ‘D,’ and got the puck in the net.”
The Bulldogs started picking up momentum toward the end of the second period, taking advantage of rebounds, and playing a more solid defense.
“We didn’t want to get into a slowdown with these guys, as far as offense goes,” he said.
Another way Antigonish “bore down” as the game went on was by focusing on better puck management, Synishin said.
“I think we controlled the puck better, and moved it well. That’s going to be key this year – not holding on to it too long,” Synishin said.
“In this league, you can see guys make too many plays and hold onto the puck too long. We’re fairly deep up front, and the more we can move the puck and distribute it, the better we’re going to be.”
Synishin said Jacob Nobbe helped secure a lead for Antigonish, with a couple of goals, an extension of what has been a record of solid play in the pre-season.
Synishin said he believes the Eagles will be a force to reckoned with in the league, in the coming months, with players like Levi Denny, who performed exceptionally last spring in the Don Johnson Memorial Cup, with the Kameron Junior Miners, on their roster.