Current and former North Island Eagles hockey players pose following their meeting in the annual Eagles Alumni Hamper Fund benefit hockey game Saturday at Chilton Regional Arena in Port McNeill.

Alumni win again — barely

In just its second year, the North Island Eagles hockey program's alumni game has proven a boon to a good cause.

PORT McNEILL—In just its second year, the North Island Eagles hockey program’s alumni game has proven a boon to a good cause.

And this time, it resulted in some good hockey, as well.

John Murgatroyd scored a hat trick and a Tom Cessford broke a third-period tie to put the alumni ahead for good in its 7-6 victory over the Eagles rep midgets Saturday at Chilton Regional Arena.

The game drew well over a hundred fans who contributed toys, food and more than $400 to the Gazette Hamper Fund, which distributes Christmas hampers each year to needy North Island families.

While the “old-timers” never trailed in the contest, they also were never able to pull away as they did in a 10-4 romp over an energetic but undisciplined group of midgets a year ago.

After watching his squad be dismantled by the cagy and opportunistic veterans in the inaugural Hamper Fund benefit game, midget head coach Mike Bell decided it should be more than a wide-open, no-defence “all-star” showcase. Instead, he turned it into a teaching moment.

“We told the guys to stay back in the neutral zone and not chase,” midget coach Mike Bell. “If you wind up chasing these guys, you’ve already lost.”

The primary objects of interest were Murgatroyd and linemates Chris Dutcyvich and Al Rushton, who have skated together for some combination of the Port McNeill Ice Devils, Port McNeill Mustangs and North Island Capitals for as many years as the current midgets have been able to stand upright on skates.

Well aware of the tendency of the alumni to sneak players behind the defence for a long lead pass at the opposite blue line, Bell and assistant coach Rob Brittain instructed the midgets to maintain positional play while still utilizing their speed and conditioning to push the play in the offensive zone.

Bell’s son, Chad Bell, proved a recurrent headache to the alumni, factoring in five of the six midget scores with two goals and three assists. After Murgatroyd opened the scoring with an unassisted goal, his crossing pass to Ethan Shaw on a 2-on-1 rush led to a goal that tied the game 1-1 at 3:51 of the opening period.

Another Murgatroyd score made it 2-1 after one period, and scores by Bill Rushton and Glenn Moore pushed the alumni ahead 4-1 midway through the second. But the midgets blunted the momentum. Barely a minute after Moore’s goal, Bell found teammate Riley Browne behind the defence for a breakaway goal that made it 4-2, then he found the net himself on a power play at 10:40 of the second to make it 4-3.

After an ice-cleaning break that featured entertainment by the Port McNeill Minor Hockey initiation “peanut” skaters, the midgets quickly tied it when alumni goalie ranged far from the net to play the puck only to be beaten by Eric Kennelly, who beat him for an unassisted score at 16:30.

About this time, Al Rushton noted, “This gets harder every year.” And Murgatroyd, skating from the far end of the rink for a face-off following an icing call, jokingly huffed and puffed as he reached the circle.

But the veterans weren’t finished, and utilized exactly the strategy the midget coaches had hoped to avoid to take the lead for good.

An unchecked Cessford, parked off the right post, beat midget goalie Alex Howard point-blank off a crossing pass from Joe Murgatroyd at 3:15 of the third period for a 5-4 lead, and another defensive breakdown gave Dutcyvich a breakaway less than a minute later. Howard was up to the task with the initial save, but Murgatroyd was johnny-on-the-spot for the easy rebound tap-in to complete his hat trick.

The alumni seemed to put things away just 48 seconds later, taking a 7-4 lead when Moore took a long lead pass from Marty Gage and netted a breakaway at 4:53.

But the midgets regrouped defensively, shutting down the alums the rest of the way. Chad Bell cut the lead to 7-5 with a one-man rush through virtually the entire alumni squad and goal at 6:31. And Kennelly got his second of the game when he skated the puck out of the corner, looked for a teammate and, failing to find an open man, simply walked past a defender in the right circle and beat Hinton at 7:17 to make it 7-6.

There was none of the wide-open free-for-all from that point, as each team kept the other in check the rest of the way.