North Island Eagles peewee Ryan Patterson (7) flings a shot at the net during Saturday's hockey game against Cowichan Valley in Port Alice.

Peewees hold league juggernauts to draw

Peewees tie with league leaders Cowichan, providing the first blemish on the record of the down-Island juggernauts.

PORT ALICE—Noted fable-meister Aesop is credited with penning the observation that “familiarity breeds contempt.”

In the case of the North Island Eagles and Cowichan Valley Capitals peewee hockey teams, familiarity apparently breeds parity.

A shorthanded, breakaway goal by Devin White with 4:58 remaining lifted the Eagles to a 4-4 tie with the Capitals in Vancouver Island Division 3 play Saturday at the local arena.

But it was a tie that felt more like a win, producing the first blemish on the league record of an undefeated Capitals club that had outscored the North Islanders 24-9 while winning all three previous meetings between the teams.

“We worked all week preparing for that game,” peewee coach Marty Gage said. “We knew it would take everything we have to win — and we were playing to win it.”

That has proven a tall order for opponents of Cowichan Valley, a Tier 2 program placed into Division 3 for the current season. The Capitals entered the game atop the league standings and with a spotless record after outscoring its opponents 41-9.

The Eagles sit at 4-2-1, tied with Alberni in second place with a game in hand against the Bulldogs and a key matchup between the sides on the final weekend of the regular season, in late January.

But the North Islanders actually took early charge of Saturday’s contest against the Cowichan juggernaut, jumping to leads of 1-0 and 2-1 on goals by Clayton Bono and Carson Strang in the opening period.

Cowichan responded each time with shorthanded goals to tie the contest, then eased in front 4-2 with two more goals in the early portion of the second period.

But just when it seemed the Capitals were poised to extend their dominance in league play, Eagles goalie Michael McLaughlin and the rest of the peewees slammed the door and tilted the ice.

McLaughlin, with some help from a vigorous defence, posted a shutout the rest of the way and earned the hard hat that accompanies the team’s “digger” award for effort.

At 4:32 of the third period, the Eagles drew to 4-3 on a fluke goal credited to Bono. He sent a shot on net that Cowichan goalie Matt Simpson stopped. But as the rebound dropped between Simpson’s knees and members of both teams charged to the crease, it was deflected into the net by another Capital.

“Thanks!” Strang said with a laugh to Cowichan forward Matt Baird as he turned to joint the handshake line at the bench.

The tying goal came with the Capitals on the eighth of their nine power plays in the game. White, a forward positioned at the point inside his own blue line, blocked a shot and the puck bounded into the neutral zone.

With a pair of Caps giving chase, White raced ahead to gather the puck and break in alone on Simpson, faking a shot in the low slot before slipping a backhand home for the game-tying goal.

“We played most of the last half of the game shorthanded,” Gage noted. “But all across the bench, we had great effort. That competitive level and battle, that’s what tied the game.”

Notably, the Eagles held the visitors to an 0-for-9 showing on the power play and got White’s tying goal while down a skater, although they did give up their own two shorthanded goals. Gage said he would still like to see his oft-penalized team spend less time in the box, but was taking nothing away from Saturday’s showing.

“It was an accumulation of a lot of hard work,” Gage said. “The kids knew this (Cowichan) team was a measuring stick, and they raised their own bar. I’m proud of them.”