AMHERST - Jumping to the Bantam AAA level has been a great experience for three Cumberland County hockey players.
"It's fun playing against the best bantam players in Nova Scotia," said Amherst's Kansas Hart, who plays for the Truro Bantam AAA Bearcats.
Springhill's Chandler MacKinnon is Hart's teammate.
"It's been the best year of hockey I've ever played," said MacKinnon. "I love the coaching staff and my teammates are great."
Amherst's Reuben Mackenzie also plays for the Bearcats. He's an assistant captain with the team.
Everybody on the team is really nice and they make sure we work hard, and I like that," said MacKenzie. "They correct us if we're not working hard."
Bantam AAA coach Lou Lanceleve say's all three players bring a unique skill-set to the team.
"Reuben's probably one of my favourite all-time players," said Lanceleve. "He's one of those big power forwards and he has a ton of upside.
Lanceleve says that if Mackenzie stays focused he could play Midget AAA and Junior hockey.
"He has all the tools, all the tools, and he's probably got one of the best shots in the league, he's just got to put it on the net, but that's OK," added Lanceleve with a laugh.
MacKenzie says he's learning to keep his feet moving and to shoot the puck low.
"The AAA game is intense, and everybody tries their hardest, so you have to keep alert and keep moving," said MacKenzie.
Lanceleve calls MacKinnon a role player.
"Chandler's an energy player," said Lanceleve. "He's a heartbeat player that gives 100 per cent."
MacKinnnon says Bantam AAA is faster than what he was used to, and adds that his game has improved a lot since September and continues to improve.
"Everything about my game has improved both physically and mentally," said MacKinnon.
Hart is the only defenceman among the three players.
"I find I've improved a lot since I joined the team. I sense the game better," said Hart. "The coaches are very educational and teach me everything I need to do."
Lanceleve says Hart is one of the bigger players on his team.
"When he focuses on his game and keeps it simple he's very effective. He's improved a lot since September and he's a great asset for us."
Lanceleve says all three players are great assets.
"It's a big jump for these guys to come up to this level and I've seen improvement in them all," he said.
"It's awesome having them here and hats off to them. The travelling they do and the commitment from the players and their parents is amazing," he added. "I have total respect for them. They're committed to playing the game."
All three players are 14-years-old and are in Grade Nine: Mackinnon at Springhill High School, Mackenzie and Hart at Amherst Regional High School.
"They're 14-years-old and we practice two days a week and, no matter where we're playing, they're on the road Saturday and Sunday.
He also says their parents are very supportive of their kids and the Bantam AAA program.
"I speak to the parents and they're very good people," said Lanceleve.
The Bearcats currently sit in 11th place in the 12-team Nova Scotia Major Bantam Hockey League.
"We're a young team. We have nine first year kids, so there's some growing pains for everybody," said Lanceleve.