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Cape Breton West Islanders rested, ready for Telus Cup national championship

The team, which has a combined 15-1 record through the Nova Scotia and Atlantic major midget playoffs, will face the Quebec midget champion Séminaire St-François Blizzard in the tournament opener Monday. The Islanders will hold a Telus Cup Send-Off Rally on Thursday evening, 7 p.m., at the Antigonish Arena. It is open to the public.
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Cape Breton West forwards Malcolm MacEachern and Jacob Stewart watch as the puck gets past Fall River's Nolan Boyd during playoff action earlier this year. The team is heading to Prince George, B.C., to participate in the Telus Cup. (RYAN TAPLIN / Local Xpress / File)

Cape Breton major midget hockey fans have waited nearly two decades for a team from the island to advance to a national championship.

So what's an extra three weeks? 

That's the span of time between when the Cape Breton West Islanders defeated the Moncton Flyers in the Atlantic region championship final on April 2 to advance to the Telus Cup and when the Islanders open the six-team national tournament Monday in Prince George, B.C.

It's a significant amount of downtime away from competitive action. But Isles head coach Kyle MacDonald said the break has been beneficial for his club.

"The layoff was actually good for us," said MacDonald, whose team has been practising and doing off-ice workouts four times a week. "We went through a tough tournament like Atlantics, so the kids needed that time off. 

"We took a good week off after Atlantics and then got back on the ice the following week and the intensity that the players had throughout the playoffs was still there at practice. The players have been well-focused. I was a little worried with that long layoff that maybe they wouldn't have that edge. But they have had it right from the start. Certainly no worries to that end. 

"Despite the long layoff, I think we will be fine."

Cape Breton West, which has a combined 15-1 record through the Nova Scotia and Atlantic major midget playoffs, will face the Quebec midget champion Séminaire St-François Blizzard in the tournament opener Monday afternoon (4 p.m. AT). While the Isles are making their national tournament debut, the Blizzard are appearing for the 16th time. 

The Cape Breton Jeans Experts in 1999 were the last Cape Breton team to play in the tournament, then known as the Air Canada Cup.

The rest of the field consists of the host and British Columbia champion Cariboo Cougars, the Leduc Oil Kings of Alberta, the Regina Pat Canadians and the Mississauga Rebels.

Unlike the Atlantic championships, in which Cape Breton West had already faced each of those teams during the course of the season, the Isles are unfamiliar with their Telus Cup opponents.

"It's a little bit tough to prepare for a team you haven't seen," MacDonald said. "But it's important for our guys to realize we have to dictate the game. We have to play our game. We don't want to feel teams out. It's important to make them adjust to us. 

"If our guys play that way, we are a hard team to play against. We won't be caught off guard and we expect to do well at this tournament."

Any success at nationals will start in goal. Colten Ellis, despite missing time battling mononucleosis and being called up to the QMJHL's Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, led the Nova Scotia major midget league with 2.05 goals against average and .924 save percentage while posting a 14-1 record and three shutouts. 

The 16-year-old from River Denys continued his stellar play in the post-season with an 1.86 GAA and .931 percentage while going 8-1 in the Nova Scotia playoffs. 

He even held his own while with the Screaming Eagles. He appeared in three games — allowing only six goals in the process — and won the two games he started.

"Colten is a really big part of our team," MacDonald said of Ellis, drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round (59th overall) in 2016. "I coached him in bantam and he's been a winner wherever he has played. Any big game, he handles that pressure really well. 

"I'm really excited to see him on the national stage. He gives us that belief that we can go win this tournament."

Note: The Islanders will hold a Telus Cup Send-Off Rally on Thursday evening, 7 p.m., at the Antigonish Arena. It is open to the public.



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