Major Midgets thrive on busy schedule
-by Bill Dunphy
Cape Breton West's top line includes Colby Tower (taking the draw), Bradley Kennedy (No. 92) and Garrett Lambke (No. 19), with defenceman Floyd MacDonald and goaltender Blade Mann-Dixon.
At the pace they’re going, the Cape Breton West Islanders probably won’t notice the start of the playoffs - it will be just another game to them.
There was very little of a Christmas break for the team. In the last three weeks they’ve played eight games. And in their last four, beginning Dec. 21, they have three wins and an overtime loss for seven points and a firm grasp of fourth place in the Nova Scotia Major Midget AAA Hockey League.
“It’s been pretty straight forward for us and a tough schedule from the get-go,” said Cape Breton West coach Sean Donovan. “We had 10 games in October against the three top teams. We have three games in four days coming up and a tournament in Halifax, and four games after that before playoffs. But then you have the Valley who only have four games in January. I’d much rather be playing down the stretch. We want to be firing on all cylinders heading into the playoffs.”
Christmas came early for the Islanders on Dec. 21 and 22 when they went to Halifax and took two games from the third-place Titans, who along with Dartmouth are just seven points in front of the Islanders with seven regular-season games remaining.
In the first game on Friday, Dec. 21, the Islanders scored the first three goals of the third period, snapping a 1-1 tie and going on to a 4-2 win.
Mark Wagner and Garrett Lambke had powerplay goals, and Colby Tower and Connor MacEachern scored even-strength goals to lead the Islanders. Bradley Kennedy chipped in with three assists and Colby MacEachern had a pair of helpers.
Blade Mann-Dixon stopped 33 shots to record the win in goal.
In Saturday’s game, Kennedy scored 18 seconds into overtime to give Cape Breton West a 5-4 win over the Titans.
Connor MacEachern had a four-point night with a goal and three assists.
Donovan Rehill scored twice and Lambke had the other single.
Mann-Dixon made another 33 saves for the win.
The Islanders returned home for last Thursday’s game against the Cape Breton Tradesmen.
It was the team’s first Alumni night, with members of past teams taking part in a ceremonial faceoff. As well, former Nova Midgets coach Donnie A.B. MacIsaac also took part to represent past team builders.
In his opening remarks, emcee John Gillies noted that more than 700 players have worn team sweaters representing the Cape Breton West Islanders, Inverary Islanders, Rod’s One Stop Eagles, and the Nova Midgets. This is the eighth season the Islanders have played solely out of the Al MacInnis Sports Centre in Port Hood.
Unfortunately, the festivities were somewhat subdued as Cape Breton West gave a sub-par effort at home in a 3-2 shootout loss.
A couple of bad penalties, too many odd-man rushes and an ineffective powerplay that was 0-for-7 to the Tradesmen’s 2-for-2 all contributed to a loss in which they were lucky to eke out a point.
Donovan said the team was coming off the two big wins in Halifax and didn’t practice that week in order for everyone to have time with their families, but conceded there were no excuses for the poor effort.
“We took two selfish penalties that had nothing to do with the game. We talked about having to stay in shape and being ready to play for that game. The Tradesmen played their top game and we didn’t,” said Donovan.
Cape Breton West had three powerplays in the first period yet couldn’t get one past Tradesmen goalie Jordan Latour.
The first penalty of the second period went to Cape Breton West, and 30 seconds later the puck was behind Mann-Dixon.
Nick Pino got the goal back for the Islanders at 8:04 on a play with Alex Bonaparte and Mark Wagner.
But another Cape Breton West penalty three minutes later resulted in a Tradesmen powerplay goal 21 seconds later with Sydney holding a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.
Two more Sydney powerplays went for nought in the third period and the game appeared to be all but done when Kennedy scored the equalizer with just 13 seconds left in regulation time. Mann-Dixon was on the bench for an extra attacker with Lambke and Regan Spears picking up assists.
Overtime solved nothing and the shootout saw five players from each team take a shot before the Tradesmen got the winner.
Donovan said at this point in the team’s development, he expects consistency in all that they do.
“At this level you need your special teams to be special. Offence is not a real concern, we’re going to get our goals; what we have to do is pay attention to the little things, we need guys to take hits, to block shots, and to stay out of the penalty box.”
The Islanders were back in their groove on Saturday in Port Hood, skating to a 4-1 win over Pictou County Weeks.
Lambke led the attack with the winning goal and two assists. Also scoring singles were Kennedy, Tower and Spears.
Mann-Dixon made 13 saves on 14 shots while his Pictou counterpart, Luke Melanson, was peppered with 48 Cape Breton West shots.
Sunday’s rematch in Pictou had to be cancelled due to bad weather.
The Tradesmen could be coming to their Alamo tonight (Thursday) as the battle of Cape Breton continues at 7:30 p.m. at the Al MacInnis Sports Centre.
And there’s no rest for the wicked with Cole Harbour in town for two games in Port Hood this weekend: Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at noon.
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