May 5, 2021
-by John Gillis
With hockey season wound down in many places and in playoffs elsewhere, some recent sports coverage got me thinking back on some of the big changes we’ve witnessed in recent years and even decades in fact. One is the expansion, growth, and participation in women’s hockey.
In the 1980s, very few women played ice hockey and a popular ice sport at that time for women and some men as well was ringette. I’m not sure about elsewhere in Canada, but it seems that ringette never really caught much more for women or for men locally; hence the growing desire, interest, and numbers over the past few decades for women playing ice hockey. Canada’s national women’s hockey team and a number of its players have had great success and clearly, there is much room for further development and an even brighter future ahead for those who choose to play.
It is likely fair to say, in addition to the numerous accomplishments of women in the sport of ice hockey, that many of our smaller arenas across the country would not be operating today had that change not taken place – just in sheer numbers of participation.
Perhaps because of the larger number of women now playing the sport when other formerly well-represented leagues or age groups no longer see such participation or, have disappeared – such as with much of the adult and senior hockey trends locally or nationally.
As with any type of sports or hockey, much of it continues thanks to the dedicated efforts of volunteers and coaching staff. I’d like to pay tribute this week to some of the many coaches who played a big role in my peer groups’ enjoyment of sport during our youth in the Mabou/Port Hood area. This goes out especially to those (some of whom are no longer with us) people such as Norman MacDonald, Roddie MacDonald, Wayne MacLean, Pete Marcott Sr., Willie Cameron, Mike MacDougall, Alex MacDonald, and many more.
The MacDonald and MacDougall coaching duo took the Mabou Tigers hockey team to the provincial championship in 1979-80 if I recall correctly. Alumni of that team included such players as: Stanley Cameron, Norman MacLean, Raymond MacNeil, Frank Chisholm, Andrew and David MacMillan, Danny Buckland, Joe Rankin, Arnold and Lawrence Rankin, Ronnie Rankin.
Curling, anyone? Bowling?
In addition to still standing and functioning as one of the oldest artificial ice arenas over the past 50 years, The Mabou Athletic Centre has served throughout its history as a fitness centre, a restaurant, and a games centre with pinball games and pool tables.
In recent years the Centre has seen success as the location for one of the most successful and growing farmers markets in eastern Canada.
Outdoors you will also see buildings which have served as a storage for the Inverness County Federation of Agriculture and again in recent years, a popular and well-used children’s playground. The arena was once adjacent to the long-gone Mabou Consolidated School (MCS) but is now further away from the current Dalbrae Academy to make it as accessible as it once was to students.
Reporter and columnist Bill Dunphy has often encouraged the Mabou Athletic Centre to shift its focus from ice hockey and to become the very best curling centre in Inverness County. (I believe it once did offer curling years ago). Focussing on being solely a curling centre in winter hasn’t happened but may be considered again given the success of the Port Hood Arena with hockey, skating and recreation not so far away and that every community tries to find its own niche.
Do many in Inverness County recall the old bowling centre on the north end of the village of Inverness back in the late 1980s? That disappeared, but perhaps with all the coming growth and interest in western Cape Breton, another community might one day sprout a new bowling alley some day.
Inverness County has proudly watched the success of goaltender Colten Ellis in going in the first round of the NHL draft in addition to him breaking a new record for shutouts in the Quebec league. This will certainly not hurt his future chances for a career in professional hockey given the hard work it takes to get where he already is plus the fact that he may have the experience of Al MacInnis among his mentors and in his corner. Go, Colten! May the hard work and bruises pay off for you down the road for continued success and a promising NHL career.