Islanders name new coach

PORT HOOD: Nick MacNeil is the new head coach of the Cape Breton West Islanders.

“I’m looking forward to getting things going in the middle of August,” MacNeil said. “I was very fortunate growing to have excellent coaches, and I’m going to teach everything I’ve been taught from Junior, to CIS and the pros.”

MacNeil, a native of Creignish, spent the past season as an assistant coach with the Islanders. Last summer, he was a member of the Hockey Nova Scotia High Performance staff and is currently an assistant coach with the Provincial U-14 team.

“I think having been in the league for a year is going to benefit me too,” he said, noting that working with outgoing head coach Kyle MacDonald was a great learning experience.

“He’s had success everywhere he’s gone.”

MacNeil added that the support system the Islanders have in place, from assistant coach Kyle Gillies to the bench staff straight to the executive are outstanding to work with.

“Top to bottom, they do a great job,” he said.

MacNeil has an extensive playing career. He is a former assistant captain with the Islanders and, during the 05/06 season, the team took first place in the NSMMHL regular season.

He went on to be drafted by (and then captain) the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles for four seasons.

After finishing his Junior career, MacNeil joined the UNB Reds where he was instrumental in the Reds winning two CIS national titles. MacNeil was recognized as one of the top players in the CIS when he was named to Team Canada which won a world university games gold medal in Trentino, Italy in 2013.

Prior to joining the Islanders as an assistant coach, MacNeil spent three seasons playing in the East Coast Hockey League, first with Bakersfield, California and then with Norfolk, Virginia. In Virginia, he played for former NHL Coach of the Year Robie Ftorek.

MacNeil also attended the St. Louis Blues Development Camp on two occasions and played with the Blues rookies in the NHL rookie tournament in Traverse City, Michigan.

“Nick will be an outstanding head coach and is anxious to build on the Islanders’ winning culture and lead the team back to the Telus Cup,” said Islander president Brian MacInnis in a press release.

“Everyone involved with the Islanders is anxious to start working with Nick and getting the journey started.”

Leaving the Islanders is Kyle ‘Duke’ MacDonald, recent history’s most winning coach in the local area. MacDonald led the Islanders to the Telus Cup in 2016-17, after winning the NSMMHL provincials and Major Midget Atlantics. He also led the Major Midgets to two consecutive East Coast Ice Jam championships (2016-17, 2017-18).

With that, MacDonald had fantastic success at the Major Bantam level, coaching the Novas to an Atlantic title.

“I was avoiding calls the last few days because I hadn’t signed my contract until last night [Thursday, July 5],” MacDonald told The Reporter last Friday. “I kind of wanted to keep it quiet, but it’s an open book now. I accepted a full time hockey job within TASA minor hockey as a technical director.”

MacDonald will be in charge of the developmental program, and he’ll also be serving as a coach mentor where he rounds up resources for the coaches to use.

“My goal was to work full-time in hockey, and the Islanders were big part of making that happen,” he said. “And I can’t forget about the Novas as well. That’s where I started my time coaching, and I really enjoyed it.”

MacDonald said the drive to Halifax for his interview with the TASA folks was a tough one, as he really loved his days coaching the Islanders.

“It was a great experience there, and I had such good relationships with the players and executive, the bench staff – they were all really good friends,” he said. “It’ll be difficult to find a group like that again.

“We had a lot of success together.”

MacDonald said he expects the Islanders to be in great hands with MacNeil leading the team.

“If I was a midget player with a former pro hockey player as my head coach, I know I’d be trying to soak up as much as I could,” he said.