Liem Wadhams stays with the puck after going to the ice in a duel with Alex Jalbert of the Comox Chiefs during their game Saturday in Port McNeill.

Atoms take heart

Eagles atom coach finds positives after defeat by the Comox Valley Chiefs.

PORT McNEILL—The matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Vancouver Island Hockey League’s atom development Division 3 standings turned out to be a one-sided affair.

But while most coaches have trouble finding the positives following a 10-4 defeat, Eagles coach Marty Gage was encouraged by some signs from his squad’s loss to the unbeaten and league-leading Comox Valley Chiefs Saturday.

“They’re a good team, no doubt about it,” Gage said of the Tier II Chiefs. “But it was a good learning experience. You don’t learn by winning all your games.”

Going into Saturday’s contest at Chilton Region Arena, the little Tri-Port atom squad had been doing plenty of that. The Eagles were 4-0-1 in league games and on a roll after dispatching Cowichan Valley 8-3 the previous week in Port Alice.

But Comox came in with a perfect 5-0 record and had outscored opponents 28-7, never allowing more than two goals in a game.

That went by the boards when Mathew Saunders and Luke Gage scored second-period goals, both assisted by Rhys Dutcyvich, and Payton Laming added back-to-back goals in the third period to earn player-of-the-game honours for the Eagles.

“Sometimes after a loss you feel disappointed,” Marty Gage said. “I don’t feel that way.”

The real trouble for the atoms came during a short stretch late in the first period, when Comox turned a narrow 2-0 lead into a 6-0 advantage by taking advantage of a series of defensive breakdowns by the hosts.

Three of those scores came on breakaway goals by players who slipped behind the North Island defenders. Two more came following turnovers in their own end that left goalie Kayden Jones to fend for himself against the swarming attackers.

“When you play a team that strong, the little mistakes are going to hurt you,” Gage said. “But I was impressed that the kids showed a lot of resiliency and never gave up.”

After the big Comox outburst, the teams were even down the stretch, playing 4-4 over the final 35 minutes.

“I don’t think they’re unbeatable,” Gage said of the Chiefs.

Ryan Patterson and Liem Wadhams each had two assists for the Eagles, on the goals by Laming.