Nick MacNeil joins Islander coaching staff

CREIGNISH: The national champion Cape Breton West Islanders will have even more firepower behind the bench this season as the team adds a former East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) stalwart to the coaching staff.

“I’m switching playing fields a little bit, and it should be fun,” said Nick MacNeil, who is joining the current coaching staff of head coach Kyle ‘Duke’ MacDonald and Kyle Gillis.

Anyone who’s followed the Islanders over the years ought to know MacNeil from his blueline skills when suiting up with the local Major Midgets.

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The Creignish native chased his Major Midget days with four seasons of playing with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. After Junior, he went onto AUS play where he played a key role in the UNB Reds winning two CIS national titles. In 2013, he represented Canada in Trentino, Italy at the International University Sports Federation’s Winter Universiade. His AUS All Star team won gold.

Most recently, MacNeil spent his time in the ECHL playing with the Bakersfield Condors (2013-14, 2014-15) and the Norfolk Admirals (2015-16, 2016-17). He said Bakersfield was a great spot, as was Norfolk. NHL veteran Robbie Ftorek was MacNeil’s coach in Norfolk, and the Creignish-native said it was great to play under him.

Two years ago, during a freak accident at practice, MacNeil found himself facing the beginning of the end for his playing days.

“I suffered an injury that kind of put me back – I had some disk problems with my neck, and this summer I thought about it and decided to retire,” he said. “The coaching opportunity comes from me and Kyle ‘Duke’ being good friends. Coaching is something I always wanted to do. When this opportunity came, I jumped on board.

“It was a fluke incident in training camp,” he said of how the injury came about. “One of the guys tripped me – he was going one way, and I was going the other. Instead of hitting the puck, he hit my skate and I went headfirst into the boards. That was two seasons ago. I missed the first half of the year, but tried to put it behind me. I tried to have the best season I could this year, but unfortunately it was still bothering me.”

Now, as a part of the Islander coaching staff, MacNeil said he and the guys are aiming high once again.

“The goal for next season is to get back to the Telus Cup again,” MacNeil said. “I haven’t sat down with Kyle ‘Duke’ yet, but I can’t see why we shouldn’t set the bar high. We’ll have some returning players, and we’ll take it game-by-game, but expectations are high.

“It’ll be great to get back to Port Hood. I appreciate all the support I got over the years.”

MacNeil is planning to finish up his business degree while coaching, and he expects that will keep him busy during the winter.