Mathew Saunders of the North Island Eagles atoms shields the puck from a Saanich defender while preparing to lift a backhand shot during the Eagles' 7-5 win Sunday in Port Hardy.

Atoms close out Hamper doubleheader with win

PORT HARDY-Eagles finish strong to follow up a Saturday tie with big win Sunday

PORT HARDY—The North Island Eagles atom development hockey team enjoyed a strong start in both games of its weekend doubleheader against visiting Saanich last weekend.

In one of the games, the Eagles maintained the pace.

The Eagles let an early lead slip away in a 4-4 tie Saturday with the Braves, but started and finished strong Sunday to claim a 7-5 victory at Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena.

“When this team shows up to play, they’re dominant,” atom coach Marty Gage said. “(Saturday), they just didn’t bring enough to get the win.”

Clayton Bono picked up a hat trick in Sunday’s win, capped by his empty-net score off a cross-ice pass from Tianna Walkus. Mathew Saunders added two goals and Carson Strang and Ryan Patterson had a goal apiece.

The Eagles raced to a 3-0 first-period lead and pushed it to 4-0 on Bono’s second goal midway through the second period.

The Braves began their rally later in period and scored twice more early in the third to make it 4-3. But unlike Saturday, when they let Saanich draw even, the Eagles this time remained a step ahead.

Saunders fought off a defender in the slot before depositing a spinning backhand shot into the net for a 5-3 lead at 8:14 of the third.

Saanich scored again to make it 5-4, but again the Eagles responded with Saunders setting up Patterson for a one-time that slipped just inside the right post for a 6-4 edge at 12:19.

Two minutes later the Braves again drew within one on their final goal, but the Eagles dominated play the rest of the way. When Saanich finally broke out of its zone and pulled its goalie for an extra attacker in the final 1:10, Walkus intercepted a pass at her own blue line and threaded a pass across ice to Bono, who potted a shot from the neutral zone for the final score with 1:01 to play.

“They’re doing things now that really impress me, with their forecheck pressure and their defensive positioning,” Gage said of his young charges. “They’re nine and 10 years old, so one of the things we’re trying to get through to them is to stay focused for the whole game.

“They’re looking like a dominant team when they want to be.”

Walkus finished with two assists. Payton Laming, Mandy Foldy, Luke Gage and Saunders added single helpers. As they do in every atom development game, goalies Michael McLaughlin and Avary Miller split time in net. McLaughlin departed not having allowed a goal.

The weekend’s games benefitted the Gazette’s Christmas Hamper Fund as fans were asked to bring a donation of a toy or non-perishable food to fill a hockey net. The visiting Braves also took part, brining toys with them to include as donations.

The Eagles will get one more weekend of home dates before the holiday break, hosting Campbell River at 3 p.m. Saturday and at 9:15 a.m. Sunday in Port McNeill.