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After months of uncertainty, the Cape Breton High School Hockey League began its new season this week.
This year will be anything but normal for players, parents and fans of the local league.
Each team will play an 18-game schedule this season: nine games at home and nine games on the road. The season will be set up in a home-and-home format in order to limit contact between players each week.
There will be no tournaments this season as per Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation rules. There will be no overnight travel until further notice.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, seating capacity for games will be based on each individual rink capacity as outlined by the provincial government’s guidelines for venues and facilities.
Seating will be assigned in advance to primary ticket holders for schools to record attendee contact information in case of potential virus exposure.
Tickets will not be available at the door on game day and tickets will be distributed by the schools to those ticket holders.
“The school administration has worked hard together with the league and facilities to ensure COVID-19 procedures are followed, while we welcome fans into our games,” said league president Mike Carrigan in an email to the Cape Breton Post.
Fans will also be expected to socially distance from people not within their seating bubbles and will be expected to wear a non-medical grade mask during the game.
The Memorial Marauders and newly named Riverview Ravens will hit the ice for their respective opening game Thursday. Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m. at the Emera Centre Northside in North Sydney.
The league officially opened its new season Wednesday night when the Sydney Academy Wildcats hosted the Glace Bay Panthers at the Membertou Sport and Wellness Centre.
The Ravens will enter the new season as the defending league champions after beating Glace Bay in the league final last year. The team lost in the provincial final, 3-2, to the Charles P. Allen Cheetahs of Bedford last March.
Riverview (16-1-0-0) has finished atop the league standings the past four years, however, this year the team will look a little different, despite having eight returning players, according to team head coach Jimmy Smith.
“We have new goalies and a couple of kids who are coming back from the Sydney Mitsubishi Rush in Colby McCarron and Archer Balcom,” said Smith.
“We have some kids that are maturing a little bit in Sam MacKinnon, Bryce MacKenzie, Noah MacKinnon and Liam Robertson, so we’ll be in the mix.”
Among the graduating players from last year include league top scorer Nathaniel Fuller and four-year netminder Michael MacMullen, who was the league’s top goaltender last season.
“I don’t think you can replace him,” said Smith of MacMullen’s services. “He was a really good goalie and I thought he was one of the best goalies in the province and it makes you a lot better team if you have a good goalie.”
The team will have Patrick Hinchey between the pipes this year. He played last season with the Ontario Hockey Academy under-18 ‘AA’ team. Devon LeBlanc will also be in the crease.
GLACE BAY PANTHERS
It’s home-sweet-home for the Panthers.
After playing the past three years at the Canada Games Complex due to the closure of the Bayplex, the team will finally return to the newly named Miners Forum for the 2020-21 season.
Glace Bay (11-2-3-0) finished the 2019-20 campaign in second place in the league, and while they have nine returning players, 10 new faces will be in their lineup this season.
“It’s new faces and a new year, although it will be a different kind of year, we’re still pretty excited, it beats not playing at all,” said Panthers head coach Dwayne Doucet.
Among the returning players on this year’s squad include offensive threat Logan Snow, who potted 11 goals and 23 points in 11 games, as well as goaltender Owen Coombes, who will play his in his Grade 11 year.
“I think our strength right now is offense,” said Doucet. “We have six returning forwards. We took seven defencemen this year, so we have five new guys on the backend and it makes things a little interesting in terms of where they’re going to be playing at this level.”
The Panthers were successful in securing a spot in the provincial tournament last year, but with changes to the provincial format because of the pandemic, the team knows there’s no room for error.
“Every game will be important,” said Doucet. “There’s no margin for error and we have to be ready to play every game.”
Like Glace Bay, the Marauders will have nine returning players, while adding four elite-level players from the under-18 major and under-16 ‘AAA’ leagues.
The club, which showed lots of potential for the future last season, has added former Sydney Mitsubishi Rush players in forward Ryan MacMillan and defenceman Jackson Ford.
Meanwhile, the team has also added former Cape Breton Jets goaltender Andrew Marsh and defenceman Mason Chapman.
“We’re going to have a lot of experience on this year’s team,” said Marc Lyle, who replaces Terry Duff on the bench as the Marauders new head coach.
“We’re going to be a hard-working group and we just want to close the gap within the league.”
The Marauders (4-12-1-1) have finished in third place in the league the past four years. The team has high expectations for this year and hope to find themselves battling for top position.
“As a group, we know that we have to go to work and we know it’s not going to be easy,” said Lyle. “We know how tight the top-two teams in the league were last year, so with the experience we have, we’ll be able to get a few more wins this year.”
SYDNEY ACADEMY WILDCATS
Sydney Academy will be the oldest team in the league this year with 13 returning players including both goaltenders from last season.
The Wildcats (4-12-1-1) returned to the high school league for the 2018-19 campaign, and after a rough first season back, the team has gradually progressed last year under head coach Sheldon Surette and his staff.
With a veteran lineup and very few new faces, the team’s expectations are the highest they’ve been in recent years.
“It’s nice to have the returning players back and a group of players who want to win,” said Wildcats assistant coach Justin Lund.
Offensively, the team’s leading point producer Dante Basque will look to add on his eight goals and 24 points from the previous year, while Ethan MacInnis and Brenden Armstrong combined for 24 points last season.
Between the pipes, Daniel MacGillivray and Liam Collings will be the veteran netminders. Both had goals-against-averages above 5.00 in 2019-20 but will look to improve upon those numbers this year.
“They’re major links in the chain,” said Lund. “Both are in Grade 11 goaltenders, so last year I thought they did pretty good for two rookies and we definitely expect a big year out of them.”
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