BEDFORD, N.S. - A familiar face could be seen around the Cape Breton West Major Midget Islanders locker room, as they battled their way through the East Coast Ice Jam Tournament, Jan. 9 to 13; eventually and impressively reaching the semi-finals.
Offering his support while catching up with Islanders’ management, bench staff and players was former coach Kyle ‘Duke’ MacDonald, who is living in the community of Bedford, which hosts the annual showcase tournament (at the BMO Centre).
A home in Bedford makes sense for MacDonald these days as he just has to travel down Hammonds Plain Road to Upper Tantallon, home to the St. Margaret’s Bay Centre and TASA (Timberlea Amateur Sports Association) minor hockey.
“I’m the technical director with TASA,” MacDonald, an Inverness, Cape Breton native, said, adding the job is about “development.”
“I do power skating, some camps, I am on with all the teams doing practices; more focused on the skills part of the game,” MacDonald said. “I’m still learning a lot about teaching skills, it’s not as easy as one might think. Teaching the Xs and Os of the game can be simpler than trying to break down skills, but I’m really enjoying it.”
As the head man teaching the Islanders the Xs and Os for two seasons (2016-17 and 2017-18), MacDonald led the team through an unprecedented amount of success; not only for the Islanders, but any major midget club based in Atlantic Canada.
The 2016-17 Islanders, after winning the Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League and Atlantic titles, were the first Atlantic Canadian team to capture the Telus Cup, emblematic of a national title for major midget hockey.
The team followed that up with another strong season; eventually losing a hard-fought semi-final series to the Dartmouth-based Steele Subaru Major Midgets.
In both seasons, the Islanders won the East Jam tournament; an event which brings together all the top teams in Atlantic Canada, as well as other notable programs from around Canada.
“That still comes up quite often,” MacDonald said, regarding how often he is asked about the Telus Cup victory. He said the answer to how it was accomplished isn’t an easy one.
“It’s hard to put a finger on one thing or talk about one thing about how that went that year but, certainly, we were as talented as any team,” he said.
“But, I think, what set us apart was how close we were and, like you saw on display during the Ice Jam here, just how many high character kids come from the area. They’re raised on hard work and that year, it all came together to accomplish something really special.”
MacDonald said he continues to follow not only the team, but his former players, many of whom are enjoying junior hockey careers.
“I definitely do, and I try to stay in touch too, as far as a text or call,” he said. “And anytime I can catch a game, I definitely do,” he added, noting he was planning on catching the Moncton Wildcats game in Halifax, which was taking place that week.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the Stewart boys (Jacob and Sean) and Jacob (Hudson) play,” he said, referring to three former Islanders, all from Antigonish, who are now Wildcat teammates.
MacDonald, who played junior ‘A’ hockey for Charlottetown and Miramichi before a university career with Waterloo, was asked about another of his former players who was recently traded from the Summerside Capitals to the Pictou County Crushers – Antigonish’s Calum MacPherson.
“They have a really good team; I think Calum was really enjoying Summerside,” MacDonald said, of the Maritime Junior Hockey League’s point leading team, the Capitals.
“They [the Crushers] gave up a lot to get Calum and, I think, that speaks to how valuable and what a great player he is. I talk to Billy [McGuigan, Capitals’ head coach] all the time and they had high praise for Calum in Summerside. Sending him to close to home is OK for Calum too.”
MacDonald, who also coached the major bantam Novas to an Atlantic title with many of same players he would enjoy success with in major midget, said he enjoyed being able to spend some time around his former team while they participated at the Ice Jam.
“It was great; I certainly miss the Islanders and all the people involved with the team,” he said.
“I talk to them regularly and follow the team regularly as well, but it was good to catch so many games over the weekend. I miss the gig I had there and wish them all the best.”