PORT HOOD, N.S. - The Cape Breton West (CBW) Islanders find themselves sitting in third place as the calendar flips from October to November in the 2018-19 Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League season.
A split of home-ice games versus the Halifax McDonald's over the Oct. 27 and 28 weekend left the Islanders with 17 points after 13 games; a total accumulated through an 8-4-1 (overtime loss) record.
The Cole Harbour Pro Hockey Life Wolfpack lead the standings with 20 points after 13 games; followed by the Kohltech Valley Wildcats’ 18 points in 14 games.
The Steele Subaru Major Midgets from Dartmouth and the McDonald's sit fourth and fifth in league standings, but both teams have games in-hand on the top three having only played 10 and nine, respectively.
Islanders first-year head coach Nick MacNeil said he has been pleased with the team’s performance so far on the season, especially considering their inexperience.
“We have a young team this year, half the team is first year players,” MacNeil said.
“But things are going good. We certainly have a lot of grit on our team and a ‘don’t give up’ type of mentality. We had a tough game Saturday (10-2 in favour of Halifax) where we played, by far, our worst game of the year. You can expect that, sometimes, from a young team. Nothing went our way that game, everything went in for them.
“But it was great to see the resiliency of our team coming back the next day to beat a good Halifax team,” MacNeil said, referencing his team’s 5-4 overtime victory on Sunday.
Brant Timmons had a goal and an assist in the lopsided loss with captain Darren Waterman scoring the other CBW goal.
Jason Johnson, Lowell MacDonald and affiliate player James Beaton picked up single assists in the game while rookie goalies Brandon Connors and Kenzie MacPhail split time in the CBW net, each surrendering five goals.
In the bounce-back win the following day, second-year forward Sam Grant was the overtime hero for the Islanders with a power-player marker, assisted by Dell Welton and Blake Hadley.
Defenceman Neil MacLean led the CBW offence on the day with two goals and an assist while Grant added two assists to go along with his winning tally.
Lewis Taylor had a goal and an assist while Ben MacLellan recorded two assists in the win. Timmons scored the other CBW goal while Matthew Ellis and Dave Matthews added assists.
MacPhail picked up the win in goal by making 31 saves.
It’s the ability to shake off adversity and continue to play hard which MacNeil sees as a strength of this year’s team.
“Our hard work and overall mentality; we are always bouncing back and just being an honest, hard-working team,” MacNeil, who was an assistant coach with the Islanders last year, said. “It has been fun to watch.”
As far as an area to work on, MacNeil talked about his team’s defensive zone coverage.
“One thing we’re slowly getting better at is taking care of our own end,” he said.
“There have been a few times where we have been running around; maybe not being in the right place at the right time, stuff like that. With a young team, you’re going to have ups and downs with that part of your game, but we’re, slowly, getting better at it. We’ve been practicing it a lot.”
Consistency is another area for improvement.
“It’s tough to be consistent every shift and kids are starting to realize, every shift you take is just as important as the one you just had or the one coming up … we’re trying to preach that,” he said. “But, I’m very happy with the way the team is playing so far.”
Next up for the Islanders is a game Nov. 7 in Membertou versus the Cape Breton Tradesmen, and they’re back on home-ice the following weekend (Nov. 10 and 11) when they host the Wildcats. Puck-drops are scheduled for the usual times at the Al MacInnis Sports Centre in Port Hood; 6 p.m. Saturday evening and 12 noon on Sunday.