The thrilling overtime win by the Cape Breton West Islanders in the 2017 TELUS Cup National Midget Championship on April 30 will be talked about for years to come.
Overcoming a 4-2 deficit heading into the third period, the Strait area-based team dramatically tied the game in the final frame, then won it 5-4 in sudden death overtime, sending current and former residents of this region into a frenzy.
This wasn’t just big news locally, but nationally and internationally, as everyone from NHL Hall-of-Famer Al MacInnis, to current NHL defenseman Andrew MacDonald and former NHLer Aaron Johnson heaped praised on the team which unexpectedly took the national championship. This was even more of a surprise given that the Islanders had a record of two wins and three losses in the preliminary round, narrowly making the medal round.
The Islanders draw players from the counties of Guysborough, Antigonish, Inverness, and Richmond and play most of their games and hold most of their practices at the Al MacInnis Sports Centre in Port Hood, which is a long drive throughout the winter for most of their roster, not to mention the extensive travel required for Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League games around Nova Scotia, then more travel to regional tournaments around Atlantic Canada.
It goes without saying that a high level of commitment is required to be part of this team, and there is an understandable dependence on local sponsors, parents and volunteers to ice a team each year.
Apart from these sacrifices, the demographics of the Strait area are not in their favour either. During Saturday’s semi-final win over Mississauga, which has a population slightly less than that of the entire province of Nova Scotia, the Islanders outlasted their heavily-favoured opponents from the Toronto area, despite the fact the population of this region is barely at the 50,000 mark.
This means there is a much smaller talent pool from which to draw from, a significantly smaller number of sponsors to approach and far fewer volunteers to keep a team functioning.
But what the Islanders and its team of supporters lack in population and commercial base, they certainly make up for in spirit, cooperation and perseverance, and those qualities were on full display throughout the week.
Rather than responding to a bitter Mississauga blueliner who called the Islanders “idiots” and an inferior team after their upset in the semis, the Islanders maintained their focus and continued to demonstrate the utmost in sportsmanship.
This win was not just significant in athletic terms. To put this in perspective, no other Nova Scotia-based major midget team – including Sidney Crosby’s Dartmouth Subways in 2002 – has ever won this national title.
This championship was also significant in how this team and its supporters conducted themselves on and off the ice, demonstrating the greatest qualities of the people of this region.
In that way, the Islanders were perfect ambassadors of the Strait area, and the fact they came away with a championship was the cherry on the sundae.
But this was a very big win, and for that, this team will be remembered for a long time.
Congratulations to the Cape Breton West Islanders!