PORT McNEILL—A late power-play goal by Cowichan Valley with 48 seconds remaining in Saturday’s Vancouver Island Hockey team was the only thing that prevented the North Island Eagles bantams from an unbeaten placement-round schedule.
OK, maybe not the only thing.
“If we’d have played the whole game like we’d played the second half, we’d have been fine,” bantam coach Mike Bell said after his team dug a 3-1 hole against the Capitals before battling back to tie the game at Chilton Regional Arena. “We were coming off three strong road games, but that first half was the worst they’ve played this season. It was Heckle and Jeckle.”
The Eagles bounced back Sunday with a 5-3 win over Campbell River to wrap up tiering play with a 4-1 record. The squad, which will host the 2015 Tier 3 provincial championships next March, is likely to be placed in Division 3 — which is typically made up of the Tier 3 teams that will battle for provincial berths — when the regular season kicks off the weekend of Oct. 18-19.
The Eagles tied Saturday’s game 3-3 on a short-handed tally by Carson Strang, who dove to punch home a slot pass from Devin White at 13:39 of the third period. The goal, set up by White’s rush past a defender along the right wing, capped a comeback from a 3-1 deficit.
But Strang was whistled for a roughing penalty with 2:16 to play, and the Capitals’ Rhys Mazurinko converted the game-winner with the man advantage when he lifted a rebound into the open corner of the net off a shot from the opposite side by teammate Owen Easton.
“There’s going to be a learning curve for everybody,” said Bell, who coached his son’s teams through four levels and who has returned to coach the bantams after a year away from the ice. “I don’t know this group. There’s no power play or penalty kill; everyone plays while I get a feel for who can do what.”
Michael Perez had actually staked the Eagles to an early 1-0 lead on his strike in the opening five minutes.
But Cowichan tied it in the first eight seconds of the second on an opportunistic rebound goal by Kayden Campbell and got consecutive goals from Matt Baird midway through the second and early in the third period to make it 3-1.
“We told the kids, ‘It’s your game; everyone else is here to watch you,’” said Bell. “‘So don’t watch — get out there and play.’”
The club responded to the challenge. Tanner Roberts converted a rebound from the low slot off a shot by Clayton Bono to make it 3-2 at 7:00 of the third, and goalie Nigel Walkus turned aside all challenges from Cowichan Valley in the brisk, up-and-down game.
“In the room at halftime, we told them to quit looking at everyone else, and to ask themselves what they could do to change the game,” said Bell. “I said, ‘Who wants to change the game?’ And they all put their hands up.”