PORT McNEILL—The fourth annual North Island Eagles Alumni benefit game turned into the fourth annual hockey clinic Saturday at Chilton Regional Arena.
But not before the Eagles midgets threatened to upstage the veterans — and not before both teams were nearly upstaged by the generosity of Port McNeill Minor Hockey’s players.
Eric Kennelly, John Murgatroyd and Andrew Laming scored two goals each as the alumni, bolstered by a cadre of former junior hockey standouts, pulled away in the second half for an 11-5 victory over the midgets in the annual exhibition to benefit the Gazette Hamper Fund.
But for a couple of shining minutes, after Emma Mitchell punched home a rebound of teammate Alex Scott’s shot at 4:30 of the second period, the midgets held a 3-2 lead, the program’s first in the series.
Alumnus Malcolm Browne, playing for the team for the first time after skating for the losing side each of the last three years, got the equalizer 2:14 later, and the teams went into intermission tied 3-3.
“It was different, not playing with all the same guys,” said Browne, who had skated in men’s league play this season with the Port McNeil Mustangs after graduating from the Eagles program last season. “There’s a lot of different age groups. I’m the youngest guy on the team, and the oldest is in his 50s.”
In past years, the intermission entertainment consisted of a scrimmage of Port McNeill Minor Hockey’s under-6 peanut players, occasionally joined by their Port Hardy counterparts. This time, however, PMMHA players Trent Beek and Brilynne Bell skated to centre ice and presented a $2,000 cheque to the Hamper Fund to midget captain Darryl Coon and Murgatroyd, the alumni captain.
The money was donated from the more than $21,000 raised by Port McNeill players in November, part of a program fundraiser sponsored by a prize package from PMMHA and Eagles alumnus and two-time Stanley Cup winner Willie Mitchell.
Each of the Port McNeill teams was allowed to keep a portion of their funds for team use. Beek, a bantam, had suggested the Hamper Fund donation idea to PMMHA president Scott Mitchell prior to the draw in which the bantam team won a Rogers Arena practice with Vancouver Canucks general manager Trevor Linden.
The club’s midget team contributed its entire $1,000, the bantams added $500, and other teams chipped in amounts ranging from $100 to $250 each. The game also produced donations of bags of food and toys for the Hamper Fund, and the Eagles midgets donated their $135 portion of the 50/50 draw.
In recent years, the alumni game has pit father against son and brother against brother, and this year was no different. Former Eagle Riley Browne skated for the alumni against brother Kenton, while alumni goalie Stevyn Ruel was opposed by younger brother Nyck in the midgets’ net. In an unusual twist, the losing coach was also the winning goalie, as midget coach Aaron Hinton played the second half in net for the alumni as they snapped the tie and pulled away to the win.
Coming out of the break, the alumni scored five straight goals in the late second and early third periods to grab a commanding 8-3 lead. The midgets had their last hurrah with back-to-back breakaway goals from Tyren Dustin and Kenton Browne to pull to 8-5, but additional breakaway tries by Thomas Symons and Cameron Grant were unsuccessful before the alumni added three goals in the final eight minutes.
“I can make that shot, but not against him,” said Symons, who attempted a deke-and-backhand that Hinton smothered. “He sees me do it in practice every day. It wasn’t an easy game. They’re old, but they’re fast. And they know their positions.”
Kennelly, another first-year alumnus who skated with the midgets a year ago, concurred.
“The older guys may be a little slower, but the passing is crisp,” he said. “Being the youngest guy on the team, I pretty much just tried to keep up with the passing.”
It was left to Malcolm Browne to console Symons, a Grade 11 student at North Island Secondary School, and his teammates following their loss.
“Hey, just two more years,” Browne said to Symons. “Then you can start winning.”