PORT McNEILL — Once they decided they were involved in a hockey game, the North Island Eagles rep bantams made a spirited affair of it.
After being knocked on their heels in the early going and playing poke-and-chase for most of a period and a half, the bantams stormed out of intermission and gave the visiting Peninsula Eagles all they could handle before falling 3-2 in the Vancouver Island Hockey League regular-season opener for both teams at Chilton Regional Arena.
Bumped up to the league’s second division and missing three regulars to injury or suspension, the home squad looked completely overmatched as Peninsula scored all three of its goals — including a shorthanded tally — before the midgame ice-cleaning.
After the break, however, a different team seemed to take the ice.
“It was the screaming at them in the locker room, I guess,” head coach Dan Wilson said with a laugh, while declining to give specifics of the discussion at intermission. “We had more scoring opportunities than they did, but we told the kids they’ve got to play the full 60 minutes, not just turn on the jets at the end.”
North Island began clearing pucks from its own end, forechecking and generally involving opposing goaltender Austin Roden after he spent the first 25 minutes watching from afar.
Defenseman Brodie Wilson put the host Eagles on the board and trimmed the lead to 3-1 with a slap shot from the point early in the third and, after a sustained attack, the bantams cut the margin to 3-2 when Thomas Symons broke in alone and snapped a wrist shot past Roden stick side with 3:53 to go.
Then things got really interesting, with the North Islanders getting several more scoring chances over a wild final three minutes. The best was on a long pass that led Darryl Coon into the Peninsula zone and Roden well out of his net to try to poke the puck away. Coon managed to push the puck past the goalie, who was left stranded between the circles, but it had crossed the end line by the time Coon caught up to it, and two trailing defenders were able to keep him from sending it home for the tying score.
Harry Paul and Alexander Stavrakov picked up assists for North Island. Riley Mathieson was the tough-luck loser in net, giving up the shorthanded goal after knocking it into the air with his blocker only to have it drop behind him just under the crossbar, and surrendering the game-winner on a power-play rebound shot at the open side of his net.
The host Eagles were without Ernest Paul, a defenseman serving the final game of a suspension; Alex Scott, who will miss three weeks after suffering a broken forearm; and leading scorer Matthew Cahill, who was out with what Dan Wilson jokingly described as “an upper-body injury.”
Cahill himself said he was told by his doctor to “take it easy for a week”, and hopes to be back for the team’s next action.
In the meantime, Wilson thinks his squad got a valuable lesson in competing at a high level for the rest of the season.
“You’ve gotta come to play right from the start,” he said. “You’ve gotta be hungrier than the other team.”