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PORT HAWKESBURY — Ask Cole Goss why the Cabot Highlanders are in the Nova Scotia Under-16 ‘AAA’ Hockey League semifinals and he’ll quickly point to his teammates.
From forwards Logan McGrath and Brady MacNeil to defenceman Brent O’Handley, the 17-year-old Goss has no problem spreading credit around for the club's success in the playoffs to date.
However, the one person he didn’t mention for helping the team sweep the Fundy Thunder of Truro in three straight games was himself.
The Antigonish native, who makes the 45-minute drive up Highway 104 to Port Hawkesbury for games and practices, was a key part of the Highlanders opening round series victory last week.
Goss appeared in all three playoff games, stopping 77 of 84 shots while posting a 2.65 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage.
“We were mentally ready to win, and we went on a night-to-night basis and got the job done,” said Goss, who’s in his second season manning the Highlanders’ crease.
“It was a hard-fought series, but we were able to leave it all on the ice and gave ourselves a chance to rest before the next series.”
Highlanders head coach Jessie MacLean believes Goss was one of the club’s strong points in the series victory.
“He played solid in all three games and made the saves he needed to make along with some huge stops throughout to help us with the sweep,” said MacLean.
“He’s a leader on and off the ice and someone we’re going to lean on again in the second round.”
Goss and the Highlanders will face their steepest challenge to date when they play the league-leading Basin Armada of Bedford in the semifinal, beginning this weekend in Bedford.
The Highlanders and Armada met three times during the regular season with Bedford taking the season series 2-1. The last time the two clubs met was on Feb. 7 with the Armada winning the contest 2-1 in Bedford.
“The Armada are a first-place team for a reason and we know they're well balanced,” said Goss, who shares the team’s goaltending duties with Dan Morrison.
“All of the team's lines are good and they can all put the puck in the net. One bad mistake could lead to them having a goal and we don’t want that to happen.”
The Armada captured the regular season title with a 15-4-2-0 record and 32 points, nine more than the sixth-place Highlanders, who finished the campaign with an 11-9-1-0 record.
Five of Bedford’s top 10 players in playoff points have two goals each, while Jack Cowan leads the team offensively with a goal and five points in three games.
Meanwhile, the Highlanders have no shortage of offensive power. Game 3 double-overtime hero McGrath leads the way with two goals and five points, while MacNeil leads the club in playoff goals with three.
Goss admits only playing the Armada three times during the season brings its challenges, however, he believes his club is ready for whatever the Bedford team throws at them.
“Come game time we’ll probably have to make some changes, but we have to roll with it,” said Goss. “If we need to make changes we will make them on the fly, but I feel if we come out and play the way we know we can play, we shouldn’t have a problem.”
Like the Highlanders, the Armada have strong goaltending. Mitchell Spearns posted all three wins against the Valley Wildcats in the opening round with a 1.20 goals-against-average and a .947 save percentage.
WEALTH OF CONFIDENCE
As a rookie last season with the Highlanders, Goss partnered with Brandon Connors as the club’s goaltending duo in 2019-20.
Goss appeared in 11 games and posted a 1-6-1-0 record with a 4.40 goals-against-average and an .884 save percentage during the regular season.
This year, as the club’s No. 1 goaltender, Goss posted a 6-4-0-0 record with a 2.86 goals-against-average and a .904 save percentage, an improvement he credits to his off-season training.
“Last year, it was a great development year for me,” said Goss, noting he was often nervous in goal during the 2019-20 season.
“I worked on my positioning, my calmness in the net and learned not to panic and to make the right calls between the pipes. I feel like I’m more confident and more mature and it’s a good feeling to have as a goaltender.”
Goss, who started his hockey career as a player with the Antigonish Minor Hockey Association, believes he’s taken his game to the next level, but knows there’s still room for improvement.
“I’m seeing the puck well and I’ve felt that’s been the case all season — it was something I wanted to work on,” said Goss, who’s also an affiliate player with the Cape Breton West Islanders under-18 major team in Port Hood.
SETTING THE STAGE
Cabot and Basin will open their best-of-five semifinal series on Saturday at 9 p.m. at BMO Centre in Bedford. The two teams will meet in Game 2 on Sunday at 12:15 p.m. at the Bedford venue.
The series will shift to Port Hawkesbury for Game 3 on April 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre. Game 4, if necessary, will be played April 17 at 6 p.m., also in Port Hawkesbury.
A fifth and deciding game will be played in Bedford, however, the date and time were not announced at press time.
Goss knows the Highlanders are the underdogs in the series, but believes his team plays its best hockey under pressure.
“I tend to perform better under pressure and I think our team likes that too,” said Goss. “I don’t think the series is going to be a sweep for either team. I think this one will go five games, but in the end we hopefully can pull it out and advance to the final.”
- Jeremy Fraser is the sports reporter for the Cape Breton Post. Follow Jeremy on Twitter @CBPost_Jeremy.