Two home losses narrows Islanders margin in standings
Instead of eying third place in the Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League, two losses at home last week has the Cape Breton West Islanders focused on maintaining fourth-place and home-ice advantage in the first round of playoffs.
Colby Tower, of Cape Breton West, could only wince as his shot towards the open side of Logan Cooke's net went too high and sailed over the crossbar in Thursday's Major Midget game in Port Hood.
The Islanders’ powerplay once again let them down in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Cape Breton Tradesmen on Thursday in which they were 0-for-7 with the man advantage.
The week previous they were 0-for-6 in a mirror-image 3-2 shootout loss to the Tradesmen.
The Islanders rebounded on Saturday for a 7-5 win over Cole Harbour at the Al MacInnis Sports Centre, scoring twice on the powerplay.
But Cape Breton West got behind 1-0 to Cole Harbour on Sunday and never regained the lead in a 5-4 loss.
Meanwhile, the Tradesmen went on to beat the Halifax Titans in back-to-back games on the weekend and closed the gap between themselves and the Islanders to four points.
Cape Breton West, at 18-10-2-1 for 39 points, has just four games left in the regular season. The Tradesmen, at 16-11-3-0, have a game in hand.
Third-place Halifax has a 20-6-3-1 record for 44 points and could still be caught by the Islanders, though that prospect is dwindling.
“For the last few weeks we’ve had a push on for third place, but at the end of the day, we can’t let home ice go by if we’re going to be playing the Tradesmen in the first round,” said Islanders assistant coach Kyle Gillies.
A former player with Cape Breton West, Gillies said he recognizes the potential of this year’s team and feels the team can work out its current problems in time for the playoffs.
“When I played, and in the past, we’ve always been out-skilled by the Metro (Halifax) teams. That’s not the case this year; we’ll be a tough team to play no matter who we get.
`We’re playing in the East Coast Ice Jam tournament in Halifax this weekend which will be a great opportunity for us to work out some issues and to build some confidence,” said Gillies.
After Thursday’s shootout loss, Gillies said the coaching staff addressed some of their concerns with the players.
“The powerplay was addressed. We reminded the guys that nothing is a given in this league. We’ve relied on our powerplay all season and we’ve had the guys who can make it work. But that only happens if everyone is working and working hard all the time. If you’re not performing, there will be consequences; your ice time will be earned; the message was sent,” he said.
And received for Saturday’s game. Brad Kennedy scored a powerplay goal in the second period to tie it 3-3, and Colby Tower scored on the powerplay at the end of the second to tie the seesaw battle 5-5.
Jack MacQuarrie and Garrett Lambke each scored even-strength goals in the third for the 7-5 win, with Brandon MacDonald back in goal to shut the door on Cole Harbour in the third.
Lambke had two goals and two assists to lead the Islanders on Saturday. Along with Tower, Kennedy, and MacQuarrie, singles were also scored by Kirkland Bernard and Alex Bonaparte. Defenceman Mark Wagner pitched in with four assists.
“The complacency bug got us on Sunday: with the lesson learned that preparation for the game doesn’t start when you get to the rink. It starts when the Saturday night game is over,” said Gillies.
Cole Harbour scored the only goal of the first period and led 4-3 after 40 minutes. The visitors led 5-3 in the third, with Wagner scoring with five minutes left to close within one, only for Cape Breton West to run out of clock.
Troy Hillier scored a pair for Cape Breton West, with Connor MacEachern scoring the other single. Randon MacKinnon, Donovan Rehill and Steven Campbell each had a pair of assists.
The top line of Kennedy, Lambke and Tower had one assist between them.
And in Thursday’s shootout loss, the Tradesmen led 1-0 and 2-1 by periods, with Regan Spears scoring with 23 seconds left in the third to force overtime and the shootout. Nick Pino had the other Islanders goal.
Blade Mann-Dixon took the loss in goal with the Islanders outshooting Cape Breton 41-22.
Following this weekend’s tournament, Cape Breton West plays out the rest of its regular-season schedule on the road, ending on Jan. 22nd in Pictou. The Islanders play the Tradesmen in Sydney on Jan. 16th and have two games against Dartmouth on Jan. 19th and 20th.
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