PORT McNEILL—The North Island Eagles midget rep hockey team got back to its winning ways in Saturday’s home opener.
Only time — and the next two home games — will tell if it was good enough.
Chad Bell scored a hat trick and five other players found the net as the Eagles romped to an 8-3 win over Comox B at Chilton Regional Arena. The win left the midgets with a 2-1 record in tiering-round games after splitting a pair on the road a week earlier.
“Last Saturday we played Victoria’s A team, which I felt was a good measure for us,” midget coach Mike Bell said. “We played a good game, and we won. The next day I expected us to handle Saanich’s B team easily. But we didn’t play well.
“Today was better.”
Eric Kennelly, Jared Sinclair, Tyson Cadwallader and Ethan Shaw all scored first-period goals, and Darryl Coon and Chad Bell struck early in the second period as the Eagles took a 6-0 lead into intermission. Goalie Stevyn Ruel was untouched in his half of action.
The visiting Chiefs sandwiched a pair of goals around Bell’s second tally in the latter part of the period, but Bell capped his hat trick at 6:33 of the third with an end-to-end rush that finished with his wrist shot bouncing off the glove of goalie Kienan Fogemann and across the goal line.
The Chiefs got the final score with 3:19 to play.
Coon had a team-best three assists and Riley Brown added a pair. Zach Swanson, George Walkus, Bell, Cadwallader, Kennelly and Ty Brittain each had one helper.
Bell has high hopes for a team that includes several veterans from the bantam club that won the Vancover Island Tier 3 title and advanced to the provincial championships two years ago.
But their best chance to get back to provincials is a season competing at the higher-calibre Tier II level — and that means impressing Vancouver Island Hockey officials with their showing in the five-game tiering round enough to be bumped up from the Tier 3 level.
The schedule is no help. Other than the opening game against Victoria, all the tiering contests will be against ‘B’ teams from other associations, including the final two tiering games in Port McNeill against Campbell River B Oct. 13 and Nanaimo B Oct. 14.
“We have to beat Nanaimo and Campbell River,” Bell said. “And it can’t be 5-4.”
That doesn’t mean the midgets won’t continue to get all players their minutes. The Eagles are loaded with experience on the blue line and two very capable offensive lines — “And the others we’ll bring along,” Bell said.
The key to the team’s fortunes may lie in net, where veteran Stevyn Ruel is supported by newcomer Alexandre Howard, whose previous experience has come with Port Hardy Minor Hockey’s house program. Former bantam goalie Riley Mathieson was lost to the program after moving to Campbell River, where he is expected to backstop the Tyees’ A team.
The midgets opened the season with a pair of second-year bantams on the roster, but Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey has made Brandon Purdey and Alexander Stavrakov ineligible after they appeared in the opening week’s games in Victoria and Saanich.
Despite the fact that no midgets were cut in tryouts, and there is no bantam Eagles program this year due to low turnout, the association is sticking to a rule designed to prevent abuse in larger, deeper programs.
“Let’s say Nanaimo’s midgets have two strong lines, but their third line is weak,” said Mike Bell. “So they bring up their top bantams, and now you’ve weakened your bantam team and you’re cutting midgets who would have been playing.
“But we didn’t make any cuts, and we have no bantam program this year.”
Purdey and Stavrakov may yet have a chance to play rep hockey by joining the Port McNeill Minor Hockey program and then being designated affiliated players by the Eagles midgets. Even then, their performance would be evaluated by VIAHA in January and the association would have the option of revoking their affiliated status.
“It’s frustrating,” Bell said.