PORT ALICE—Games in their hometown arena always seem to bring out the best in Port Alice members of the North Island Eagles hockey program, and Saturday was no exception.
But a four-goal, two-assist effort by local lad Tyler Roper was not quite enough as the Nanaimo Clippers escaped Doug Bondue Arena with an 8-7 win in Vancouver Island Hockey League placement play.
“This was a fun game to play in,” Eagles coach Ray Bono said. “A fun game to be involved in.”
The contest featured six ties and three lead changes, and wasn’t decided until a power-play shot from the slot by Eagles captain Ethan Bono was deflected away by the blocker of Nanaimo goalie Cole Dunn in the final, frantic seconds.
Evan Manke gave the atoms their last lead of the game at 5-4, on a power-play strike from the right post at 7:08 of the second period.
Nanaimo tied it up at 11:29 of the period on a fluke own-goal by the Eagles, then scored two straight times to go up 7-5, the only time either team led by more than one goal.
David Klatt, who one week earlier scored a bizarre goal by deflecting a clearing pass from behind the net of Cowichan Valley in a game in Port McNeill, was on the wrong side of the ledger with another deflection Saturday. Parked at the bottom of the left circle in front of goalie Griffin Handley, Klatt got his stick on a Nanaimo centring pass from the corner but inadvertently tipped it past the startled Handley.
And it wasn’t the only hard-luck goal surrendered by the hosts. Seconds after successfully killing a third-period penalty — which included a stretch of 1:37 skating 3-on-5 — the Eagles went down 7-5 when Rhees Tabashniuk scored what was technically an even-strength goal for Nanaimo before the atoms’ fifth skater had rejoined the play.
Still, even after the Clippers pushed their lead to two with 12:31 to play, the Eagles weren’t finished.
Collecting a puck deep in his own zone, Ethan Bono lofted a long lead pass to Roper at the centre line. The puck skipped ahead down the ice, but Roper beat two defenders to the prize and lifted a shot past Dunn to make it 7-6 with 11:15 remaining.
Then, following an extended forecheck in the Nanaimo zone, Roper collected a loose puck along the boards and lifted a wrist shot from the left circle to tie it again with 6:56 left.
Nanaimo got the game-winner with 5:43 to go, after Handley made a save on a shot by Adam Chalmers. When Handley pounced to cover the rebound, it squirted from his glove and Chalmers, left unchecked, poked it into the open net.
“We came out a little flat again, but the kids battled and didn’t give up,” Ray Bono said. “They kept plugging.
“We had a couple of penalty problems, and little things like hitting the net and getting the puck out of our zone. They’re afraid to make mistakes right now, but they learn from the mistakes.”
Cole Klughart and Ethan Fuller also scored for the atoms. Manke chipped in three assists, and Daunte McKinney, Kai Verbrugge and Ethan Bono also had helpers in the game.
The Eagles are back in action with a home placement game this weekend, hosting Juan de Fuca at 4 p.m. at Chilton Regional Arena in Port McNeill.