PORT HAWKESBURY - When asked about his team's performance so far this season, Strait Pirates' head coach Taylor Lambke described it as "fairly positive."
“We have really grown, as a group, especially in the last six or seven games," the second-year bench boss said.
He noted that, early in the campaign, several Pirate newcomers were adjusting to playing at the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League (NSJHL) level.
“Our focus is on continuing to improve and keep pushing forward,” Lambke said.
Prior to a Dec. 13 home matchup with the rival Antigonish AA Munro Bulldogs (results were unavailable at press time), the Pirates - with a 13-5-1-2 mark – were sandwiched between the first-place Bulldogs (14-3-1-0) and third-place Junior Miners (13-2-1-1).
Describing the division race as a "dog fight," Lambke said the Miners, as usual, are "well-rounded," while the Bulldogs are strong upfront offensively, while their 'D' and goaltending have improved steadily.
“It is going to be really tight – there are some really good hockey teams,” Lambke added.
Josh Foster and Jacob Keagan lead the Pirates in scoring, with 16 goals and 12 assists apiece, for 28 points.
As part of a balanced attack, Bryce Reynolds, with 23 points, Branden Dauphinee (23) and Avery Warner (19) round out the top-five scorers for the Strait.
Lambke praised his overage players, including Keagan, Olan Spears, Josh MacKinnon and Brandon Dauphinee, for helping key their early-season success.
In his first NSJHL season, Jason Johnson, a product of the Cape Breton West Islanders, has collected 18 points, including six goals.
"Jason has grown a lot and has done some great things. We knew the potential, but he has really blossomed," Lambke said.
Veteran Cody Smith has played the lion’s share of games between the pipes, posting a 10-7 record, including a shutout, along with a 3.34 GAA and .910 save percentage.
"He has been a big part of what we have been able to do," Lambke said of his #1 goaltender.
Noting the Pirates have been strong on the offensive side of the puck, he added - when it comes to playing in their end - they have "grown in that area."
"More and more, we are learning the value of defending, especially in a high-competitive league," Lambke said.
The Pirates have open cards, which Lambke noted provides “some flexibility,” but there are no plans, at this point, to make any roster moves.
"If we do, it will be about building on what we have," Lambke said about the focus being on adding, not subtracting, players.
When the season continues in the new year, the team will continue "to focus on the little things that winning teams do well."
The Pirates will return to regular season action Saturday, Jan. 4, when they visit the Liverpool Privateers.
Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. at Queens Place Emera Centre.