PORT HARDY—In Saturday’s playoff game against Powell River, the North Island Eagles bantam rep hockey team played perhaps its best half of the season.
To keep the season going beyond this weekend, the bantams will need that kind of showing over the full 55 minutes.
Leading 2-0 at midgame and still ahead 2-1 entering the third period, the Eagles suffered a combined physical and mental meltdown that allowed Powell River five unanswered goals as the Kings ran away with a 6-2 win at Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena.
“I think we just got tired, and then we fell apart,” bantam coach Bruce Murray said. “We pretty much lost our legs, and after that the boys were sitting back and watching (the Kings) play their game.”
The loss might have been a season-ender, but the Eagles were bailed out the following day when Powell River romped to a 6-1 home win over Campbell River.
That left the bantams, 1-1 in the three-team Vancouver Island North playoff series, with the No. 2 seed in the North. The Eagles will travel this weekend to face the South’s top seed, Kerry Park, in one of two Tier 3 semifinal games. Sooke visits Powell River, and the two semifinal winners will play a three-game series to determine the Island’s representative to the Tier 3 Provincial Championships.
To earn a return trip to provincials, the defending Island champs will want to show off the kind of play they dropped on Powell River for the first 30 minutes Saturday.
Darryl Coon, one of a small handful of returners from last year’s provincial qualifiers, gave the bantams a 1-0 lead on a first-period goal assisted by Kale White and Alex Scott.
Thomas Symons made it 2-0 when he took a pass from behind the net from Scott and chipped it in from point-blank range at 2:38 of the second period.
Coon very nearly made it 3-0 a few minutes later, but his slap shot from the slot hit the crossbar and fell just in front of the goal line before being cleared by the Kings. Coon’s near-miss came during a penalty kill, and at that point in the game the Powell River squad was bickering and in apparent disarray.
“This is a power play?” the Powell River coach called out to his team while the Eagles penalty-killers controlled the puck in the Kings’ end.
It was a particularly surprising development considering Powell River finished Division 2 league play with a 7-1-2 record, just a point behind league winner Saanich, while the Eagles went 0-10 and finished last in the same league.
“I think the team just put the season behind them,” said Murray. “They realized this is the playoffs, and if you want to keep playing hockey, you better come to play.”
Powell River drew to 2-1 on a point-blank rebound score at 13:34 of the second period as the game levelled off. In the third, the Eagles’ patiently crafted lead evaporated in a hurry. The Kings punched home four goals in a span of less than four minutes. Two came on the power play and two more came when defensive breakdowns led to breakaways on Eagles goalie Riley Mathieson.
The bantams finally stopped the bleeding over the last 11 minutes, but could generate no offence against the rejuvenated visitors.