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For the past number of years, the MacIntyre Chevy Panthers hockey program has helped grow the sport of hockey for female players in Cape Breton.
The team played in the Nova Scotia Female Midget 'AAA' Hockey League and provided local players the chance to play competitively against the top female players in the province.
The program also helped provide an outlet for local players hoping to further their careers past midget hockey and enhanced hopes and dreams of one day playing the sport at the university level.
Although the program had some growing pains at first, the Panthers have had success on the ice.
The team advanced to its first-ever league final in 2017-18 where they posted its best record in franchise history, 14-6-4-0, losing to the dominate Northern Subway Selects of Pictou County.
In the past, the sense has been that female players wanting to pursue a career in hockey are better off attending prep schools and playing for teams off-island, giving them more exposure to university recruiters.
Although there's nothing wrong with having options and playing off-island, the Panthers program has been successful in helping numerous players fulfil their goal of playing past midget hockey.
In recent years, Leah Byrne of Glace Bay was recruited from the Panthers program and played two seasons with the Prince Edward Island Panthers of the Atlantic University Sport in Charlottetown.
Byrne later returned to Cape Breton and earlier this month helped guide the Cape Breton Capers team to their first Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association championship since 2013, as the Sydney university returned to women's hockey this season.
Last year was the most successful year for the Panthers in terms of furthering careers. The club had three players — Aimee O'Neill, Nicole MacNeil and Julia Carroll — who were recruited to play at the AUS, Ontario University Athletics and NCAA levels.
O'Neill suited up for the Saint Mary's Huskies of Halifax. The Glace Bay product finished her rookie AUS campaign with three goals and 10 points in 27 games. MacNeil took her talents to Ottawa, where she played with the Carleton Ravens program. In 14 games, the Sydney rookie had one assist and 12 penalty minutes. As for Carroll, the Albert Bridge product was part of the Nichols College Bison of the NCAA. In her first season with the Dudley, Mass. team, the netminder posted a 3-4-2 record, a 3.27 goals-against-average and a .906 save percentage.
This year, to date, the Panthers have one player moving on to play university hockey in 2020-21.
Erin Denny of Eskasoni was recently recruited by Saint Mary's. She will join O'Neill in SMU's lineup next season.
There's no question the Panthers program has been able to develop its players and better them for years to come, not only on the hockey side of things but as citizens in the community as well.
The current Panthers team operators, who have done more than enough over the years for the program, won't be returning next season and are hoping to pass the torch on to a new group.
Hockey Nova Scotia's female council is currently accepting bids to operate the franchise for the 2020-21 season. The deadline for bids is March 31.
Until the deadline passes, the bids submitted, if any, remain unknown.
A number of players on this year's Panthers team are eligible to return to the midget 'AAA' league next season.
If for some reason no bids are submitted, it would certainly be a blow to the island, which has seen the female game grow in recent years in large part due to the formation of the Cape Breton Blizzard and Quad County female hockey associations.
For more information regarding possible bids for the franchise, visit www.hockeynovascotia.ca. A complete list of bid requirements and details are available.
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