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Braveheart line helps send Islanders to Major Midget final

Cape Breton West forward Calum MacPherson forechecks in the Pictou County zone during Saturday’s series-clinching 6-3 win in the Major Midget semifinal playoff series in New Glasgow.

-by Bill Dunphy

    Their names are as Scottish as they come, and what they lack in war paint, kilts, and claymore swords, they more than make up for it in heart, Cape Breton West Islanders sweaters, and their sticks.
    Cape Breton West’s “Braveheart” line of centre Jacob Stewart and wingers Calum MacPherson and Malcolm MacEachern earned the start in Saturday’s series-clincher against the Pictou County Weeks following a big game for the line the night before.    
    Nobody expected Pictou County to lie down facing elimination at home, but someone unfamiliar with the Islanders beyond their top line might have raised an eyebrow when 17, 18, and 19 lined up to start the game against Pictou’s top line.
    But in a game where the Weeks were fighting for their playoff lives, some dirty goals would be needed and Stewart, MacPherson, and MacEachern were the players trusted to get them.
    The trio had six points between them in Friday’s 9-0 rout at the Pictou County Wellness Centre in New Glasgow. They added six more points on Saturday to help the Islanders to a 6-3 win and to take the best-of-five Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League semifinal series 3-1.
    “Every team has a top line and they’re expected to produce, but it takes a team effort to win a game, and those guys work the hardest; they give up their bodies, and they win us hockey games,” said Islanders captain Jacob Hudson.
    It was another candidate for the Braveheart line, Fearghus MacDonald, who got things going for the Islanders in Saturday’s win.
    Playing with an extra attacker on a delayed penalty, MacDonald pounced on a rebound on a point-blank shot by Avery Warner to put the puck behind Pictou goaltender Alexander MacDonald.
    That was at 13:13 of the first. Two minutes later and Jacob Stewart made it 2-0 following a battle in MacDonald’s crease, with Fearghus MacDonald and Malcolm MacEachern joining in the fray.
    However, the 2-0 lead evaporated in the second period as G Blackmore set up Gavin Hart and Kevin Mason on a powerplay to knot the game at 2-2.
    The Islanders were given a four-minute powerplay opportunity at 15:55, but first had to survive a penalty shot awarded to Blackmore, who was stopped with a left pad save by Islanders goaltender Colten Ellis.
    Back on the powerplay, Stephen Fox, on a play with Warner and Liam Timmons, shot from the left faceoff circle through traffic to score before the first two minutes of the penalty were over.
    With a fresh two minutes with the extra man, both teams took a minor penalty each, and on the four-on-three, Logan Chisholm passed to the blueline, where Sean Stewart dished off to Ryan MacLellan for a screened shot that knifed its way into the net for a 4-2 lead.
    That goal proved to be the winner. Pictou got to within one early in the third on a goal by Hart.
    Jacob Stewart scored an insurance goal following another battle in the Pictou crease, where MacPherson and MacEachern were getting pummeled as they dug out a loose puck on MacDonald’s stick side to find Stewart open on the glove side.
    Pictou pulled MacDonald for an extra attacker with two minutes left, but were saddled with a man in the penalty box. Jacob Hudson scored an empty-netter on a play with MacEachern and Craig Ryan.
    “Pictou is a hard-working team and we were prepared for that,” said Hudson. “We’re a hard-working team as well, with a lot of skill up front. But winning games like this starts at practice. We go through a lot of battle drills to prepare ourselves for a game like this.”
    Hudson said there is little room for mistakes in a five-game series.
    “We prepared for it differently and we were obviously ready and came out with the first win in the series. We took them a little easy in game two, so we weren’t going to make that mistake again,” he said, adding it didn’t matter to the Islanders that games three and four would be in New Glasgow.
    “It’s something you come to the rink ready for. Every game is huge in a five-game series and we worked hard to get to the top.”
    Twelve Islanders picked up at least a point in Friday’s 9-0 win, headed by defenceman Ryan MacLellan with five assists.
    Hudson and MacEachern each scored twice, while Keenan Gillis, MacPherson, and Timmons added a goal and an assist each. Warner and Spencer scored single markers.
    Ellis made 39 saves for the shutout victory.
    The Islanders began their best-of-five final series for the Nova Scotia championship last night (Tuesday) in Port Hood against the Dartmouth Steele Subaru. Game two is tonight (Wednesday) at 7 p.m. at the Al MacInnis Sports Centre.
    Game three, and four if necessary, will be played in Dartmouth on Friday and Saturday. If a fifth game is needed, it will be back in Port Hood on Sunday at 6 p.m.

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