SYDNEY: It was the first time a Cape Breton West hockey team competing above the ‘A’ level took a provincial championship and, considering the backstory that led them to the Hockey Nova Scotia championship, the banner win was all the sweeter.
“It was a rollercoaster of a year,” said bench boss Mitchell Warner, the third person to hold the head coach’s position of the Cape Breton West Midget AAs since the season started.
“They boys were stranded without a head coach, so I took over around the end of December. We started a bit rough, it took awhile for us to get going, but we knew had a chance to do something special.”
The West lost its first coach early in the season. At that point, Warner was brought in as an assistant coach. The second head coach left in the month of December, and at that point Warner stepped up. December was the same month that the West experienced its first big win of the season, taking gold at a Cape Breton County tournament.
After that, the West expanded its lineup by adding a few new players. With that, the wins started coming.
“We went on a roll to end the season,” he said. “We were in second place after winning our last 10 games or so. We won the Cape Breton Cup, and that gave us a spot in provincials. Once we got to provincials, we had all the momentum again.”
The West started the provincial championship by facing the host Cape Breton County team at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre. The West won 4-3. Following that, the West tied TASA 1-1, and then beat Chedabucto 3-0.
“That win put us in the championship, so our fourth round robin game was against Truro and it didn’t really matter,” Warner explained. “We lost 1-0, and that put them in the championship against us. We played them and won 3-1 in the final game.
“All the teams were closely matched, but we came through in the end. It was pretty emotional. We had 10 third-year players, and it was their last year playing. They rallied and got the job done.”
The championship saw Truro Bearcat Riley Masters score in the first period.
Islander Landon MacIntosh (from Keegan Freimanis and Bradley Kersten) had the tying goal in the early going of the second, and the game remained stalemated until Kersten (from Brady Aucoin and MacIntosh) scored the game winner midway through the final frame.
Freimanis had an empty net goal with 32 seconds left to seal the win for the West.
Backstopping the West was Hunter Forance. Forance was a major winner in terms of provincial awards, as he took honours as an all star, the top goalie, and MVP.
“I’m really proud of the guys,” Warner said. “To come from nearly folding to play the way we did, go on that kind of a roll, winning the Cape Breton County tournament, the Cape Breton Cup and provincials – I’m not sure it all set in yet.
“We were all on the same page, and we had fun doing it.”