Cabot Highlanders off to league finals

PORT HAWKESBURY: The Cabot Highlanders are moving on to the finals of the Nova Scotia U16 AAA Hockey League after eliminating the Basin Armada last weekend.

The Highlanders punched their ticket to the final a 2-1 win in game 5 at the Halifax Forum on April 17.

Jonathan Dunphy had a goal, including the game-winner, as well as an assist, while Cole Goss made 31 saves.

Highlanders head coach Jesse MacLean said they were not the favourite in the series against the league-leading Armada.

“They were a good hockey team, but honestly going into it, I felt pretty good. I thought our team matched up pretty well with the way they played, and it was just a matter of setting up a game plan, and then it was up to the boys to execute from there,” the coach said. “We altered our game plan a little bit to try to slow down their big guys coming through the middle of the ice.”

After eliminating the Fundy Thunder, the Highlanders got out to a 2-0 lead in their best-of-three series against the Armada with 4-3 and 3-2 victories, both at the BMO Centre.

“To take two wins against the top team in the regular season on the road was huge,” MacLean noted.

Then at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre on April 16 and 17, the Basin Armada won twice, 3-1 and 5-1. Brent O’Handley and Logan McGrath had the lone goals in the losses.

“The switch kind of flipped on us. The way this series went it was more of a home-ice disadvantage than a home-ice advantage. The boys played well in the first game on Friday night, but it was just that pucks weren’t going our way. It was just one of those games,” the coach recalled. “I liked our first, and I liked our third (on Saturday), we just didn’t have a very good second, and against a team like that, they can make you pay if you fall asleep. That one cost us.”

Although they finished the regular season in sixth place, MacLean was confident his team could do well in the playoffs since they are defensive-minded, have solid goaltending and boast timely offence.

“I felt really pretty going into the playoffs even as a sixth seed,” MacLean added. “To sweep the third seed as an underdog was huge and definitely turned some heads.”

The Highlanders will now take on the Chiro Care Kings from Sackville in the best-of-five final series starting this weekend on the road, then returning to the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre the first weekend in May.

The Highlanders lost three times to the Kings in the regular season, but playoffs are a different animal, the coach added.

“Playoffs are a completely different scenario than the regular season,” MacLean added. “We’ll put a game plan together this week, just kind of keep on rolling what’s been working for us, make a few adjustments based on strategies and how they play. We know we’ll have to shut down a couple of their bigger guys. Our mindset is defence-first and I feel pretty confident that the boys will be able to pull something out.”