PORT McNEILL—The North Island Eagles atom development program figured it would get a couple of evenly matched games when it invited the Campbell River Tyees to Chilton Regional Arena for a pair of exhibition games last weekend.
The atoms had no idea just how evenly matched they would be.
The Eagles and Tyees skated to a 4-4 tie Saturday in the series opener, then returned Sunday morning and posted an identical result with another 4-4 draw.
“Did you notice how silent it went in the bleachers when the horn sounded?” atoms coach Marty Gage asked. “The crowd was quiet and the kids had long faces; we felt as though we should have won both those games.”
In each case, the host Eagles held a 4-3 lead, only to watch the Tyees force the tie with a final goal.
Saturday’s finish was particularly disappointing, with Campbell River scoring on a power play with just 3:15 left to play. That came after a 4-on-4, breakaway goal by Elliot Furney at 10:27 of the third had staked the Eagles to a 4-3 lead.
Campbell River participates in Division 3 of the Vancouver Island Hockey League while the Eagles are slotted one tier below, in Division 4. But the Tyees have had a rough time in the early part of the season at the higher level, while the Eagles have been strong in their Division 4 contests.
“I feel for Campbell River a bit,” said Gage. “The competition in Division 3 is obviously a little stronger and if teams aren’t competitive it’s not beneficial for any player.
“Games like this weekend are great for the kids. They battled hard and it was fun to watch.”
Gage experimented with some new line combinations and said some of the skaters are still adjusting to the changes.
The first line of Clayton Bono, Carson Strang and Mathew Saunders amassed seven of the team’s eight goals for the weekend, and Gage singled out Strang and Jackson Cole for their back-checking work from their forward spots.
“We’ve configured our lineup fairly offensive-minded and we’ve asked the forwards to help the ‘D’ as much as possible,” Gage said. “Those two certainly did.”
Michael McLaughlin handed the goaltending duties Saturday and Avary Miller played goalie Sunday, with both earning solid reviews.
“It was definitely not the goalies’ fault,” Gage said of the two ties. “I see it as a great learning experience. We’ve somewhat gotten used to coming out on top in recent tight games and this weekend was a little bit of the opposite of that.”