PORT HOOD: The Cape Breton West Islanders celebrated their season last Friday night at the St. Peter’s Parish Hall and, though the year had some ups and downs, coach Nick MacNeil said he’s looking back on good things.
“We had the second youngest team in the league, and I remember going into the Early Bird Tournament and not winning a game,” he said. “I thought this was going to be an interesting year for sure, but at the same time I and the rest of the coaching staff didn’t mind the way we played. And then, that first 12 or 15 games of the year, we were in second place.
“It goes to show the boys believed in themselves. There are ups and downs, but everyone kept a good attitude. When you’re on a losing streak, it’s hard to keep the boys smiling every day, but we made sure to have fun. This is the best time of their lives.”
The Islanders finished the season in fifth place in the eight-team provincial league, managing a record of 15-19-2. In the first round of play-offs, the Islanders dropped the Valley Wildcats in four games, something of an upset considering the fourth place Wildcats finished the season at 22-13-1.
After that, the Cole Harbour Wolfpack ousted the Islanders in three games.
Losing to a very strong team is never shameful, said MacNeil, and the play-off battle with the Valley was a good show of the sort of heart the Islanders have.
Being quality guys off the ice, MacNeil said, was one of the lessons he tried to teach the players all season.
“All year, I’ve been talking to the boys about good karma,” he said, noting that an experience at the Ice Jam Tournament this season shows that, just maybe, what goes around comes around.
“We lost to the Vitos Friday night, so nobody knew if we were in [the Round of 16] or not. But that morning, we had visited a nursing home. I look back on it, and I wonder if we hadn’t made that nursing home visit, maybe we wouldn’t have made it into the Round of 16.
“I don’t know, but I believe if you do good things, good things come back to you.”
A number of members from the executive spoke at the banquet, but the special guest speaker was a Port Hood guy who several years ago, “begged for a spot on this team at the age of 15. I was 6’4” and maybe 150 lbs.
“If the wind blew, I fell over.”
Regan Spears, one of the standouts with the StFX X-Men hockey team, offered comments for the Islanders players. Before signing on with the X-Men, Spears played Junior A in Pictou for three years. And before that, due to coach Nick Muise having green-lit him at the age of 15, Spears cut the ice as an Islander.
Spears said hockey is a demanding game both physically and mentally, but with the help of a good support team, he keeps everything under control.
“A lot of people have been in my corner, and a few are in this room: Darrel [MacDonald], Kyle [Gillis], Brian [MacInnis]. Thank you for believing in me. My siblings are always cheering for me, and my mom – we make a good team. She’s always there to give advice, always has my back,” he said.
“My advice to you players is to keep working hard, be a good team man, people are going to remember you for the kind of guy you are, not how many goals you scored. Make sure you appreciate your support team. They’re going to be there when the hot game is over.
“It’s a privilege to play hockey, and an even greater privilege to play for this organization.”