The Cape Breton West Islanders and Sydney Mitsubishi Rush know their privileged to be playing hockey this season.
In the COVID-19 era, where many provincial governments haven’t approved return to play protocols yet, the Islanders and Rush are set to begin their Nova Scotia Under-18 Major Hockey League season this weekend.
The Islanders will be on the road for a pair of games against the Halifax McDonalds, who are considered to be contenders for this year’s provincial title. The teams hit the ice Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at the Halifax Forum.
Meanwhile, the Rush will be on home ice for a weekend series with the Kohltech Valley Wildcats. The clubs kick things off Saturday at 7 p.m., before wrapping up Sunday at 1 p.m. Both games are at the Membertou Sport and Wellness Centre.
The Islanders enter the new campaign after finishing in sixth place in the league standings last year with a 13-21-0-1 record.
Cape Breton West posted a 4-1 record in the preseason. Although the games didn’t mean anything, head coach Nick MacNeil likes what he saw from his club.
“I think we have a really fast team, I like our speed a lot,” said MacNeil. “We will be prepared each and every game and I expect us to play the right way, play fast, play hard, play intense and certainly be discipline.”
The Port Hood-based Islanders will have nine returning players this season include captain James Beaton, who finished the 2019-20 year with 11 goals and 29 points in 35 games.
“He does everything right,” said MacNeil of Beaton, who is among the Cape Breton Eagles protected players this season. “His work ethic, his determination, he’s such a mature kid for his age. He’s going to have a great season for us.”
Among the players who graduated from the Islanders’ program last season were forwards Lewis Taylor and Dave Matthews. The two combined for 34 goals and 71 points. MacNeil said Beaton and Bryce Thompson will be looked upon to provide offense.
“The guys who have been in the league for a couple of years now will be relied upon,” said MacNeil. “We hope they can teach the younger kids how to work each and every day.”
On the blue-line, the team will have two returning defensemen and four rookies. One of the returning defensemen is Cape Breton Eagles prospect Liam Trenholm.
“He’s going to be relied upon heavily on special teams, especially the power play,” said MacNeil. “Liam and Cody Van de Sande will both wear letters for us this year and will be relied upon pretty heavily moving forward.”
MacNeil said the weekend games with Halifax will be a test for his club.
“On paper, they look like they’re the best team in the league and I think they will be pretty good,” he said. “We’ve been practising good and we’ve looked good in exhibition, but Halifax is a highly-skilled team and they work hard, so we have to max that intensity.”
Meanwhile, the Rush, who were originally supposed to host the 2021 Telus Cup national championship until COVID-19 pushed their hosting rights to 2022, enter the season looking to improve on last year.
The Membertou-based team struggled to find the win column in 2019-20 and had a 6-28-0-1 record. The club played South Shore in the playoffs and was eliminated in four games.
Sydney will have 11 returning players this season including top scorer and captain Nick Mahar, who finished last year with 21 goals and 41 points. Shawinigan Cataractes draft pick Drew MacIntyre (15 goals, 32 points) will also be back this season.
On the blue-line, the team will have three veteran defencemen led by assistant captain Drew Baldwin, who recently returned to the team after spending time at the Pictou County Weeks Crushers junior 'A' camp. Preston Pattengale and Van Sawlor round out the veterans on defence.
Between the pipes, the team will rely on Eagles draft pick Jack Cashen to hold down the fort this season. Cashen was among the last cut from the Eagles camp this season.
Rookie Andrew Burke will also be in the crease for the Rush. He played last season with the Joneljim Cougars of the under-15 major league and earned a spot on the team after the club released veteran Lucas Fraser earlier this month.
The Cape Breton Post could not immediately reach Rush head coach Troy Chiasson for comment on the season.
SYDNEY MITSUBISHI RUSH
NAME POSITION HOMETOWN
Jack Cashen Goaltender New Waterford
Andrew Burke Goaltender NA
Drew Baldwin Defenceman New Waterford
Andrew Campbell Defenceman NA
Tyson LeFrense Defenceman Sydney Mines
Brady MacKenzie Defenceman NA
Preston Pattengale Defenceman Sydney
Van Sawlor Defenceman Sydney
Reese Allen Forward South Bar
Alex Christmas Forward Eskasoni
Landon Clark Forward Glace Bay
Riley Crane Forward NA
Jake Edwards Forward Sydney
Drew MacIntyre Forward Sydney
Nick Mahar Forward Sydney
Whalen Matthews Forward Sydney
Logan O’Neill Forward Alder Point
Riley Seymour Forward Florence
Blake Snow Forward NA
Parker Hutchings Forward NA
CAPE BRETON WEST ISLANDERS
NAME POSITION HOMETOWN
Adam Tkacz Goaltender Antigonish
Jack Milner Goaltender Antigonish
Leyton Stewart Defenceman Antigonish
Cody Van de Sande Defenceman Antigonish
Liam Trenholm Defenceman Port Hood
Ray MacKinnon Defenceman Antigonish
Ryan Hayes Defenceman Port Hawkesbury
Kier Jordan Defenceman River Denys
Lowell MacDonald Forward Guysborough
Jack MacDonald Forward Antigonish
Jacob Cook Forward Boylston
Kevin Walker Forward Antigonish
Ryan Digout Forward Cleveland
Bryce Thomson Forward Antigonish
Landon MacIntosh Forward Margaree
James Beaton Forward Inverness
Marcus Larade Forward Cheticamp
Sam Beaton Forward Kentville
Rory Wood Forward Harve Boucher
Cadyn Power Forward Louisdale