The North Island Peewees Eagles finished their tier 3 season with their heads held high, knocking off the top team in their division, the undefeated Sooke Thunderbirds, in two straight games at home.
The Eagles played the Thunderbirds on Saturday in an exhibition game at the Doug Bondue Arena in Port Alice, and it definitely did not disappoint the passionate hometown crowd that came out to cheer the young athletes on.
The Thunderbirds got out to an early lead at 14:15 of the first period thanks to a goal from Mathieu Oullette.
Oullette then added another goal roughly seven minutes later, giving the Thunderbirds a big two-goal lead.
The Eagles captain William Grant answered back with a goal of his own at 6:15 to get his team on the scoreboard, and then Aren Kufaas found the twine off a nice wrist shot through traffic to tie the game back up 2-2.
Ty Morash took over from there, shooting five hole on the Thunderbirds goalie and scoring with 1:44 left on the clock, giving the Eagles a close 3-2 lead.
Oullette struck again right away in the second period by finding the net at 19:21, and then Riley Steer scored at 13:19 to give the Thunderbirds the lead back 4-3.
Eagles forward Kai Verbrugge returned the favour with a wrist shot goal from the side of the net at 8:55 to tie it up 4-4, but Charlotte Swanton knocked the puck past the Eagles goalie Bryce Walkus with 1:57 left to make it 5-4.
The Eagles dug down deep in the third period and rallied hard to score three goals, thanks to Lucca Stewart’s big shot from the slot, Kufaas going backhand from the side of the net, and Zach Spafford deking around the goalie to slide the puck in with 1:25 left on the clock, giving the Eagles a thrilling 7-6 comeback victory.
The Eagles had a rematch with the Thunderbirds on Sunday morning at the Chilton Regional Arena in Port McNeill, and this time it was the Eagles who got out to an early lead at 14:24, thanks to Morash netting a wrist shot glove side from the circle.
The Thunderbirds would return the favour less than two minutes later, as Oullette notched his fourth goal in two games.
The Eagles pulled ahead when Kale Hunt rammed the puck in during a mad scramble in front of the net at 7:11, with all the refs agreeing it was a good goal.
The second period was a little quieter, but the Thunderbirds managed to tie the game with a nice goal coming from Grady Sluggett at 16:18, before the third and final period of play commenced.
The Thunderbirds came out firing in the third, netting the go-ahead goal at 13:28, but the Eagles refused to quit on themselves and battled back by storming down the ice towards the net.
Grant put the team on his back and scored his second goal in two games at 8:59, followed by Spafford picking up his second game-winning goal in two days, as he quickly skated in on the wing and beat the Thunderbirds goalie through the five hole with 6:28 left on the clock.
The Eagles would hold on from that point until the buzzer went, claiming a razor thin 4-3 victory.
After the game, Spafford said everyone had been “shooting up high on him, so I shot low.”
Grant said he felt he played pretty well, “but our whole team has been doing good, and we all had a fun weekend.”
He added it was an emotional two games for the Eagles with the ups and downs, but he’s excited to play Port Alberni in the playoffs “because we haven’t played them yet, and I think it’ll be a good game.”
Head coach Glenn Moore, who has been coaching hockey on the North Island for around 16 years, said he’s most proud of seeing young kids progress “not just as players, but as young men and good people in society.”
This was Moore’s first season as a head coach for the Eagles, and he noted he has had some great backup from his assistant coaches Chad Mackenzie and Doug Grant.
“It’s a match made in heaven,” laughed Moore. “Chad’s got the playing experience and Doug has been around forever — we agree on most things and we worked together two-years-ago on the Atom Development team, so when I found out I was coaching those were the first two guys I called.”
He was ecstatic with how the Eagles performed, stating the team “was amazing this weekend — We played a very good team game, stuck to our system and had to persevere a few times when we were down, but we met the adversity and kept moving.”
He motivated the kids by telling them to “stick to the system, don’t try to do it yourself, and then we took it to them and they couldn’t handle our pressure down low.”
Moore is known for his motivational quotes, but he said he didn’t have any specific ones this year that he could remember, though he did tell the team before Sunday’s game “to be present, don’t worry about what happened in yesterday’s game, don’t worry about the future, right now just be present for this game.”
As for the upcoming playoffs, Moore feels like the team is “peaking at the right time… Moving forward, if we can keep playing like that we’ll be alright, we got two tough games next weekend with Port Alberni and Nanaimo, two teams we haven’t seen before — we’ll play our game and go from there. If we keep scoring more than the other teams we’ll be good… We can compete with anybody when we’re playing our top game.”