STRAIT AREA: The Cape Breton West Islanders head coach Nick MacNeil and Strait Pirates bench boss Tim MacMillan are both cautiously optimistic the 2020-2021 hockey season will take place.
For their part, the Islanders have hired an assistant coach, Judique native Mike MacDonald, who just returned to the area from Alberta where he’s been coaching and playing senior hockey.
“He played before with the Islanders and I know Mike personally, really great guy, loves talking and for the last eight years he lived in Wetaskiwin, and him and his wife and his daughter are moving back home,” MacNeil said. “I heard about Mike moving home, we put out the application out, and we had three people apply, sure enough Mike was one of those guys who applied.”
MacNeil said Cape Breton West currently made registration available for their development camp which they hope to host in August.
“Some of the guys will be going, getting ready and in shape, and whenever we get the greenlight, it’s going to be go time,” MacNeil stated. “The big thing right now is to get the players on the ice a little bit. They’ve been training all summer, but it’s just to make sure they’re ready when we get the okay.”
Even though other leagues like Atlantic University Sport and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League have pushed back their schedules, MacNeil remains hopeful the Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League can start by mid-October.
“A lot of people are still wondering if the hockey is going to happen and it’s going to be a big next month to see what’s actually going to occur,” he noted. “I think we’re trending in the right direction, kids are getting on the ice and everyone’s doing their best to be safe.”
Considering new additions and maturing players, MacNeil said he, the team and the coaching staff are excited to get the season going.
“It’s an exciting time,” the head coach said. “We’ve got some exciting bantam players coming up. We’re just looking forward to having a better year than last year. I think that’s all you can ask for is to get better every year.”
In the case of the Pirates, MacMillan said the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League Board of Governors met twice since March and postponed their annual general meeting, which was supposed to take place in April, until September.
MacMillan said there no expectations the league will start in September, as it normally does.
“There is no anticipation that the season will start on time,” MacMillan stated. “Not at this time. The belief is that the season will not start on time, whether it’s an October start, or November start, those are details that aren’t known now.”
While they don’t hold summer camps anyway and they can’t hit the ice until September, MacMillan expects his squad will not be able to get back on the ice until the beginning of October, with the season starting in November.
He said the NSJHL is working on “multiple scheduling options,” and if there is a shortened season, teams would only play within their division.
Because of the delays, the coach said the Pirates have made no major transactions or trades, or trades, but they’ve remained busy.
“We’ve been talking to players, free agents and doing the territorial picks,” MacMillan noted. “We kept doing that, all teams have. It’s a little harder though when you don’t know who would make it to StFX. We do know now that the university is going to try and run and so most of our players from away should be coming to school. That won’t be known until they actually do.”
Despite the uncertainty, MacMillan added that the Pirates want their fans, sponsors, and players to know they are committed to returning for the upcoming season.
“We want people to know there will be a season,” he added. “We just don’t know what it will look like but we intend to be on the ice.”