Islanders gain momentum beating Valley twice to tie Major Midget series
-by Bill Dunphy
Colby MacEachern, of Cape Breton West, levels a Valley forward Sunday, highlighting the amazing job the four-man Islanders' defence is doing in the Major Midget semifinal playoff series.
Forget the apples, the Valley Wildcats were made to eat humble pie in Port Hood on the weekend as the Cape Breton West Islanders won twice to tie their best-of-seven Nova Scotia Major Midget AAA Hockey League semifinal series at 2-2.
The top-seeded Wildcats lost much of the swagger they came with, losing 2-1 Saturday and 5-4 on Sunday. By the end of Sunday’s game Cape Breton West had forced the Valley to make a goalie change, take a time out, and had the coaching staff raising their arms to the heavens as they sought divine intervention.
Both games had fans on the edges of their seats at the Al MacInnis Sports Centre.
In Saturday’s 2-1 win, Cape Breton West was up 2-0 on second-period goals by Connor MacEachern and Floyd MacDonald and were hanging on to the lead in the dying minutes of the third when they took a penalty.
With the net empty and two extra attackers on the ice, the Valley scored with 1:27 left on the clock.
However, stalwart goaltending from Blade Mann-Dixon held the Wildcats at bay for the remaining minute-and-a-half. Mann-Dixon made 34 saves for the win.
If Saturday’s game was a barn-burner, then Sunday’s game leveled the farm.
Not that it started out that way. For two periods it seemed the Sunday letdown after the Saturday win was going to happen as the Valley picked away at the Islanders for a 1-0 lead after one and a 3-0 lead midway through the second that included a powerplay goal and a shorthanded marker on an ugly turnover.
Veteran centre Regan Spears, who was determined to lead by example by finishing checks and forechecking hard on dump-ins with third-line teammates Steven Campbell and Troy Hillier, put Cape Breton West on the board at 16:34 of the second.
And whatever transpired in the dressing room during the second intermission, it was a new-and-improved Islanders team that hit the ice in the third.
The team’s top line, which struggled through the first 40 minutes, wasted no time making an impact in the final 20.
Thirty-seven seconds in and Brad Kennedy was set loose on a head-man from Garrett Lambke, crossing the blueline and wiring a shot past Valley goalie Michael Pettet.
On their next shift, a pass from Colby Tower to Kennedy created a two-on-one with Lambke, with Kennedy flipping the puck over a defender’s stick onto the tape of Lambke’s, who made no mistake going five-hole for the score at 4:50.
The Islanders went on the powerplay 34 seconds later, and at 5:56 Spears, working the crease with Kennedy at the point, tipped a shot past Pettet to put Cape Breton West up 4-3 and forcing the Valley to switch goalies in favour of Justin Ritcey.
Ritcey didn’t fare any better as the Islander’s fourth line struck at 8:35, prompting Islanders’ fans to ask the Wildcats’ coaching staff if they had any more goalies.
Donovan Rehill was the marksmen, picking up a rebound on a shot by Nick Pino and going top shelf with it.
Down, but not out, the Wildcats came back with a goal at 13:01 to draw within one, and from then on the large crowd lived and died with every save Mann-Dixon made, including a final minute in which the Valley net was empty.
Mann-Dixon made 33 saves for the win.
And a game report wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the contribution the Islanders’ depleted defence made. With Mark Wagner and Jack MacQuarrie sidelined with injuries, the remaining four (Floyd MacDonald, Colby MacEachern, Konnor Timmons and Matthew Morgan) have done yeomen’s service in back-to-back games.
“That’s the best feeling in the world!” said Spears after the game. “There’s no quit in this team.”
Spears said the team finally got a break when he scored the Islanders’ first goal.
“All we needed was one good shift to get us going. That was a big shift that gave us that first goal, and Campbell and Hillier made it happen,” he said.
The Islanders still must win at least one game in Berwick, and Spears said they’re capable.
“We showed that we can play with them. We’ve got the momentum, and we’re probably the best team for that. I have no doubt that we can win up there.”
The series is now a best-of-three, and the Islanders were in Berwick last night (Tuesday) for game five.
Game six comes back to Port Hood tomorrow (Thursday) at 7:30 p.m.
The Wildcats would host game seven, if necessary, this Saturday at 8 p.m.
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