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Midget AA Islanders make history with provincial win

Members of Hockey Nova Scotia and the Midget AA provincial organizing committee present the Cape Breton West Islanders with the championship banner on Sunday. Accepting the plaque and banner are, from left: Ross Mullins, Keegan Freimanis, Frankie MacNeil and Bradley Kersten.


-by Bill Dunphy

    To be successful in playoffs, every team needs THAT goaltender, be it the National Hockey League or at minor hockey provincials.
    It’s little wonder then, with two goalies who are THAT goaltender, the Cape Breton West Islanders won the Nova Scotia Midget AA championship on Sunday in Membertou.
    With their 3-1 win over the Truro Bearcats, the Islanders became the first boys team from the Cape Breton West Minor Hockey Association to ever win a provincial AA or AAA title.
    “I couldn’t be more proud of these kids,” said Islanders’ coach Mitch Warner. “It takes a lot of heart to win a provincial championship.”
    Hunter Forance, who was in goal for the provincial win, cleaned up on tournament awards, winning first-team all-star goaltender, top goalie of the tourney, and tournament MVP.
    “The awards don’t matter because nothing compares to this,” Forance said after the win. “It didn’t matter if it was Steeve (LeFort) or me in goal, the guys played great in front of us all weekend. When it comes to who plays, either one of us can make the saves; we’re pretty much brothers.”
    LeFort echoed the sentiment, adding, “We’ve always had a friendly competition and Hunter played great today.”
    Both players heaped praise on their coach for the team’s success.
    After a less than inspiring first period, in which Truro led 1-0 and had an 11-3 edge in shots, LeFort said Warner had them fired up for the third period.
    “Mitch was pretty emotional. He said to keep our feet moving and empty the tank.”
    Forance said Mitch came aboard in December when the season looked pretty bleak.
    “We were taking 10 penalties a game and getting scored on 10 times a game. Our coach left and we almost folded,” said Forance. “Mitch came on board and we couldn’t have asked for a better coach. He was fun, but strict, at the same time. He made us skate and got the forwards to crash the net every time. And now we’re provincial champs.”
    Truro opened the scoring at 11:54 of the first period, a shot deflecting off a defenceman’s stick that changed direction on Forance.
    The Islanders started the second period with enthusiasm. Defenceman Keegan Freimanis set up Bradley Kersten for a shot from the right wing circle. His shot just missed the top of the net stick side, but Bantam call-up Landon MacIntosh, working the opposite corner, came out for a shot that found the net top shelf.
    The score remained tied through the second and into the third, where two significant plays made the difference for Cape Breton West.
    The first came five minutes into the period, when Truro forced a turnover for a three-on-one opportunity, only to be broken up by a diving play by Freimanis that resulted in an easily-handled save by Forance.
    Then, at 7:22, Brady Aucoin made a nice play at the Truro blueline to keep the puck onside. A shot by MacIntosh deflected off a defenceman to the open side where Kersten was set up for an easy pick to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead.
    With a faceoff in the Islanders zone at 12:31, Truro called a time out and pulled its goaltender. Another faceoff in the Islanders zone came at 13:49 and Warner called his time out.
    And at 14:28, a broken play in the neutral zone saw Freimanis beat a Truro defenceman to the puck and his roller from centre ice hit for an empty-net goal.
    “What a year of hockey” said Warner, who is just in his first year of coaching. “We put this team together in a week and we steadily improved. We came together and really got behind each other.”
    Warner tipped his hat to his goaltenders. “When you have that kind of reliability in your goaltenders, the overall confidence of the team is out of the world.”
    The Islanders opened the tournament on Friday against their Cape Breton rivals and host team, the County Islanders.
    The County led 2-1 after the first period but three unanswered goals in the second frame saw Cape Breton West take a 4-2 lead on the way to a 4-3 victory.
    Frankie MacNeil led the West with two goals and an assist. Kersten, and Aucoin with the winner, had single markers. Forance was in goal for the win.
    In their second game on Friday, Cape Breton West played the TASA Ducks to a 1-1 overtime draw.
    MacNeil scored at 5:39 of the first period, driving to the net where he picked up a centering pass from the team’s second Bantam call-up, Cole Mullins, and slapped it home.
    LeFort held TASA scoreless for two periods before the Ducks finally got one past him to tie the game at 4:34 of the third. Shots on goal were 33-26 in favour of TASA.
    On Saturday, Cape Breton West assured themselves of a berth in the final with a 3-0 win over Chebucto.
    The Islanders scored all three goals in the first period, with Cole Mullins, Dante Isadore, and Landon MacIntosh denting the mesh.
    Forance had the shutout in the Cape Breton West goal.
    The Islanders closed out the round-robin with a 1-0 loss to Truro, setting the stage for Sunday with both teams tied for first with 2-1-1 won-lost-tied records.
    Along with Forance, Dante Isadore was the only other Islander to receive a tournament award, being named a first-team all-star forward.

 

 

 

 

 



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