PORT McNEILL—On his birthday Saturday, Alert Bay’s Daunte McKinney got a card, a bright, neon-yellow hard hat and a championship banner.
And that was before the party even started.
McKinney and his North Island Eagles atom development teammates cruised to a 7-3 playoff quarterfinal win over Saanich at Chilton Regional Arena, earning a berth into this weekend’s championship final in Port Hardy.
Following the win, Liza Furney of Tri-Port Minor Hockey presented the team with the 2013-14 Vancouver Island Division 4 league championship banner.
“I’m very proud of them for winning the league,” atom coach Ray Bono said. “They played very hard all year; they earned it.”
Bono offered a more mixed review of Saturday’s game, in which the host Eagles jumped to a 3-0 lead and were never really threatened. Cole Klughart had a hat trick, Tyler Roper and Keenan Saunders each scored three points and McKinney added a birthday goal as the squad advanced to host this weekend’s three-team playoff finals.
“They played good enough to win, but they can do better,” said Bono, who felt the game was closer than the 7-3 score, despite Saanich getting its final tally with just one second to play. “If they want to win next weekend, they’re gonna have to come out flying. They’ve worked too hard to let it get away in one game.”
Roper finished with a goal and an assist, Saunders earned a playmaker with three assists and Ethan Bono and Joey Grant were credited with goals in Saturday’s victory. Additional assists went to Koen Harwood, Connor Van Will, Tynan Klein-Beekman and Ethan Bono. Kayden Jones got the win in goal, and McKinney picked up the hard hat presented to the winner of the team’s ‘Digger’ award.
The game was one of three divisional quarterfinals played on the weekend. The two other winners will travel to Port Hardy and face each other in a semifinal Saturday at 3 p.m. at Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena. The winner will return Sunday to face the Eagles for the Island championship.
Ray Bono hopes to see his team firing on all cylinders when they take the ice for that final. The squad has one more practice tonight to get ready, but he’s not going to spend it alarming the youngsters about the importance of the playoff.
“We’re just going to keep them loose by having fun,” he said.
The fun started immediately after Saturday’s win, when the players — from Alert Bay, Port Alice, Port Hardy and Port McNeill — gathered to celebrate McKinney’s birthday. The party included goodies and a return to the ice for a fun skate.
For his part, McKinney said he is looking forward to this weekend’s playoff final.
“I’m excited,” he said.