WEST BAY: A female hockey team representing Cape Breton is preparing for a provincial event.

The Cape Breton Starts, which includes players from the Strait area, is practicing for the Nova Scotia 55+ Games in Yarmouth from Sept. 16-19.

One of their local players, Monica MacKenzie, said they are holding practices in Port Hawkesbury and Glace Bay until then. The other local player is Vickie MacKenzie.

“All we’re doing is practicing hard,” MacKenzie told The Reporter. “We qualified to go the nationals two years ago because the provincials are one year and the nationals are the next year.

“It’s the first time that Cape Breton ever hosted a woman’s hockey team. We ended up winning the silver medal so we got invited to go to the nationals which was supposed to be held in Kamloops, BC last year but because of COVID, everything was cancelled. Due to that, the provincials are being hosted this year, luckily we’re allowed to play again but of course, it’s now another qualification year, so we’re going to be going against teams from Halifax, and Truro, and down the Valley, and so on.”

MacKenzie said the Cape Breton Stars formed back in 2018.

“There were people from Cape Breton that were playing, but Cape Breton didn’t have enough players to actually have their own team at the start of these 55+ games,” MacKenzie noted. “There were from Cape Breton that were playing with the Halifax teams or the Truro teams, and then once it got more popular, then they started splitting it up so that we have to compete in zones now.”

Coach Daryl Baxendale said his team has been practicing twice a week since early in July. While keeping teams together during the summer is a challenge, the coach says he is lucky to have so many committed players.

“To a person on the team, they’re very committed. We have the players from up your way that travel to Sydney twice a week. It’s a long drive in the middle of the summer but nobody’s faltered, nobody’s questioned it,” he said. “We put it to them that we were going to be doing practices twice a week, and there wasn’t one complaint, or even a heavy sigh, they were all in. They go out there and they try hard, they work hard. We’re pushing them because some of the ladies haven’t skated in the last year, some of them didn’t even play hockey, a few of them did through COVID. Now, we’re trying to get them in game shape.”

Despite the challenges, Baxendale said his players have terrific attitudes.

“They’re an amazing bunch of girls; there’s always a smile on their face. They’re just fully committed and I just can’t say enough about them,” he noted. “They’ve been gelling as team mates. They’re looking to do their best; they’re making their best passes and they’re skating their hardest just to support everybody on the team.”

Over the past several weeks, Baxendale said the coaching staff has been concentrating on the fundamentals like passing, positional play, and especially skating.

“We’ve got another three weeks to work on the finished details of different systems that we want them to play,” Baxendale explained. “By Sept. 16 we should have them in pretty good shape to be able to compete at that level. We did it the last time, and I think this time we’ll do a little better than the last time.”

MacKenzie added she hopes the team can inspire other female hockey players of all ages.

“Hockey continues, no matter what your age.”