It’s been more than seven months since the Cape Breton Jets and the Cabot Highlanders have played a meaningful game of hockey.
The Nova Scotia Under-16 ‘AAA’ Hockey League teams, like all clubs, were forced to suspend operations in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, two days before the start of the league playoffs.
Despite uncertainty around the league, which consists of 15-to-16-year-old players, the Jets and Highlanders will once again return to the ice this weekend when they begin their respective seasons on the road.
Cape Breton will open the season with games against the Basin Armada of Bedford on Saturday at 5:30 p.m., following by a meeting with the Admirals of Upper Tantallon on Sunday at 11:15 a.m.
Meanwhile, the Port Hawkesbury-based Highlanders will face the Voyageurs HC of Dartmouth in a two-game between series. The teams will meet Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the Bowles Arena, and Sunday at 1 p.m. at the RBC Centre, both venues in Dartmouth.
The Jets enter the season coming off a year in which the team struggled to find the win column. The team finished last in the eight-team league with a 3-21-2-0 record.
Despite the growing pains, head coach Jim (Fred) Head believes this year’s squad will be more competitive.
“I think we’re going to be solid,” said Head. “It’s going to take a bit of time. The majority of the team is coming from the bantam ‘AA’ league this year because the under-18 major club (Sydney Mitsubishi Rush) have chosen to ice a young team this season.”
The Membertou-based team will have four returning players this year including brothers Zackary and Dawson Cecchetto as well as defenceman Matthew Carroll and Nick Johnson.
The club was also fortunate to add veteran netminder Lucas Fraser, who earlier this month was released by the Rush after playing last season with the team.
“We’re happy that he chose to come with us,” said Head of Fraser’s decision. “He will play in this program to better his game and he will continue to develop as a strong netminder.”
During the 2019-20 season, the Jets scored the fewest goals (50) in the league, while allowing the most goals against (129). Head doesn’t see scoring to be an issue this season.
“We have lots of scoring power,” said Head. “We have four of the top five scorers from the bantam ‘AA’ league last season and they’re going to help us win games this season.”
Meanwhile, the Highlanders are poised to be one of the top teams in the league with seven returning players on this year’s club including No. 1 netminder Cole Goss.
“We have a good mix,” said Highlanders head coach Jesse MacLean. “We’re feeling good about our defence core … we have a good mix up front with a couple of returnees and a couple of players from The Novas (under-15 major) so we’re looking good so far.”
Cabot finished sixth in the league last season with a 7-10-2-6 record, while scoring the second-fewest goals (69) in the league.
MacLean has higher expectations this season, especially with the addition of rookie forward Colin Van Zutphen of Port Hood, who finished atop the Cape Breton Bantam ‘AA’ Hockey League with 23 goals and 48 points in 30 games.
“You don’t want to blow the kids out of proportion right off the bat, but I’d be looking at a top three or four finish, that’s where I see us,” said MacLean, noting the team had a 5-0-1-0 record in the preseason.
“You don’t really know until you get into the games and start playing all the teams, but we’re going to take it one day at a time, but we have set goals for ourselves.”
Following the weekend, the Jets will host the Fundy Thunder of Truro in the club’s home opener on Oct. 31 at 3 p.m. at the Membertou Sport and Wellness Centre.
As for the Highlanders, the club’s home opener will be on Oct. 31 when they host the Armada at 6 p.m. at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre.
2020-21 ROSTERS AND COACHING STAFF
CAPE BRETON JETS
NAME Position Hometown
Lucas Fraser Goaltender Sydney
Ben MacGillivary Goaltender Sydney
Nick Johnson Defenceman New Harris
Coady Grace Defenceman New Waterford
Terrance Toney Defenceman Eskasoni
James Jobes Defenceman North Sydney
Matthew Carroll Defenceman Albert Bridge
Josh Walsh Defenceman Sydney River
Simon A. Marshall Defenceman Eskasoni
Zackary Cecchetto Forward New Waterford
Dawson Cecchetto Forward New Waterford
Luc Sampson Forward Sydney
Joshua Novak Forward Sydney
Keegan Geizer Forward Sydney
Braydon MacDonald Forward Glace Bay
Dillon Arsenault Forward Sydney
David Ramsey Forward Sydney
Marcellus Francis Forward Eskasoni
Josh Dennis Forward Eskasoni
Kale MacNeil Forward Glace Bay
Jim (Fred) Head – Head Coach and General Manager
Charlie Johnson – Assistant Coach
Matt MacLeod – Assistant Coach
Brandon Lund – Assistant Coach
John-Michael Walsh – Development Coach
John Glenn Hillier – Trainer
Terry Wilcox – Dryland Trainer
Scott Gouthro – Goaltender Coach
NAME POSITION HOMETOWN
Cole Goss Goaltender Antigonish
Dan Morrison Goaltender Baddeck
Ben Kennedy Defenceman Lochaber
Damon MacDonald Defenceman Antigonish
Drew MacLean Defenceman Inverness
Leo MacLean Defenceman Port Hawkesbury
Brent O’Handley Defenceman Guysborough
Jack Taylor Defenceman Havre Boucher
Angus Aucoin Forward Englishtown
Kenzie Batherson Forward Port Hood
Cameron Bell Forward Antigonish
Daniel Chiasson Forward Antigonish
Joanthan Dunphy Forward Dingwall
Blake MacDonnell Forward Inverness
Cody MacDougall Forward Inverness
Brady MacNeil Forward Port Hawkesbury
Brody MacPherson Forward Antigonish
Logan McGrath Forward Sherbrooke
Andrew Murray Forward Antigonish
Colin Van Zutphen Forward Port Hood
Jesse MacLean – Head Coach
Jacob Keagan – Assistant Coach
Mitchell Warner – Assistant Coach
Riley Keeling – Trainer
Brian Tracey – Manager