PORT HAWKESBURY: With the start of the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League drawing ever-closer, the Junior Pirates are strengthening their backend in an effort to remedy what was regarded as their weak spot last season.
“Last year, it was no secret that we could score goals but we weren’t great at defending,” said Pirate coach Taylor Lambke. “Our focus this summer was to improve our goaltending and our defense. We worked hard at it, and we feel very good about the guys we have.”
In a press release issued last Friday, Pirate general manager Tim MacMillan said the Pirates made two big acquisitions for their defensive core.
Liam MacKinnon, former captain of the Cape Breton West Islanders and a key part of the Islanders winning the Telus Cup, will join the Pirates. MacKinnon was a territorial pick and is now attending StFX as an engineering student.
MacKinnon is a big guy at 6’ and 180 lbs, but the Whycocomagh player is considerably smaller than the Pirates’ other acquisition, Brendan Lanning. The 6’4”, 210 lbs blueliner played 37 games with the Valley Wildcats of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League last year.
“Tim and I worked pretty hard this summer to get a few guys, and we’re still working on a couple of others,” Lambke said. “We’re obviously happy to have Liam and Brendan. Liam is a local kid and a big part of Cape Breton West winning it all. Brandon brings a lot of experience.
“We’re looking for both of them to step in and help our defense big time.”
Defenseman Matt Morgan is expected to return to the Pirates as an overager, and its possible both Riley Keeling and Callum Jordan will return as well. Also slated for action with the Pirates is goalie Cody Smith, a former Cape Breton Tradesmen and MJAHL player who’s highly regarded.
“We’ve gone from a position of weakness last year to a position of strength this year,” Lambke said.
“The month of September in our division will be busy, transaction-wise. Without getting into specifics, there are a lot of moving pieces right now. We like our group, and we’re going to add to it and keep getting better.”
The Pirates home opener is Friday, September 14 against the Antigonish Bulldogs. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre.