The weekend featured a long-awaited return to home ice for the North Island Midget Eagles.
It has been a bit of a tough stretch so far for the Eagles, as 15 of their first 17 games have been played on the road, which is definitely a taxing schedule for anyone involved with rep minor hockey.
The Eagles, sporting a 2-0 record in Tier 3 league play, were finally scheduled to play at home in a two-game series against the visiting Peninsula Eagles.
The first game was held on Saturday afternoon at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena in Port Hardy, and it was Peninsula who struck first at 11:08 of the first period thanks to Tyler Collins firing the puck past Eagles’ goaltender Griffin Handley (assist on the play went to Toryn Swallow).
The Eagles would go on to tie things up near the end of the period, as fast skating Kai Cyr tipped a point shot into the back of the net with 3:00 left on the clock, assist on the play going to Tristan Mardell.
The Eagles would continue to score from there. Braden Walkus made his presence known at 10:27 with a fast shot off the draw (assisted by Keenan Saunders), and then Mardell buried the puck on the power play at 8:26, assisted by Joey Grant, to give them a big two-goal lead.
Peninsula’s Corrin Chapeskie would score just seconds later to make it 3-2, and then Tate Senior, assisted by Hirshdeep Bhatti, would knock the puck past Griffin Handley to tie it up going into the third period.
The Eagles knew they had to respond, and they came out flying.
Walkus scored on the power play less than two minutes in (assisted by Liem Wadhams and captain Ryan Patterson), and then Grant iced the game off at 13:52 with an unassisted goal of his own to make it 5-3 for the hometown team, in what was a bit of a penalty filled affair.
After the game, head coach Ryan Handley noted the team “looked kind of out of sorts to start, but that was to be expected. I thought our defence had strong games — having Patty back helps and we decided to go with six defence and eight forwards just to allow our defence to play partner to partner to get some familiarity together instead of rolling with five defence.”
Handley said there were a lot of penalties handed out mainly due to the Eagles “struggling with the emotions, and it’s part of our game that gets away from us at times. Taking 11 minor penalties isn’t a recipe for success, so we need to clean that up a bit… It was a gritty effort for our group and at the end of the day two points is two points.”
The teams had a rematch the very next day at 11:30 a.m., and this game went a little bit different than the previous one.
The Eagles would get out to an early lead at 3:55 of the first period thanks to a big power play slap shot from Patterson, assisted by Wadhams, and they kept pouring the offence on from that point forward.
Josh Nielsen scored from the circle on a power play at 8:13 of the second period (assisted by Matthew Datos), and then Datos would rip a beauty of a shot home on the power play at 15:54 of the third period, which was assisted by Cyr.
Peninsula tried to get some offence going, but just couldn’t get the puck past Eagles’ goaltender Avary Miller, who ended up picking up another shutout on the season, stopping roughly 10-15 shots that came in sporadic bursts.
“I thought we did some better things in that game and for the most part stayed away from the after the whistle stuff,” said Ryan Handley. “We had some strong games from the usual guys, but I thought Kai Cyr really had some jump and played some important minutes for us.”
Handley added the team’s power play “needs to simplify and relax, and to be fair, we haven’t had much game time to work on things, it’s one thing to practice but you need game speed and scenarios to apply things. We talked about it at the clean and what we needed to do and it was much better for us in the second half.”
After the game in the dressing room, Handley said the coaching staff talked about “being in control of the division and being able to focus on the task at hand in front of us, but also the big picture, which is to just keep winning games. These were two tough wins mentally and physically, but we will take the four points.”
The Eagles are now officially the top Tier 3 midget team, and they will be back in action Dec. 7-8 against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and the Kerry Park Islanders.