Coach Ryan Handley’s North Island Bantam Eagles have been having quite the season so far this year.
The Eagles, fresh off a 5-1 win over the Oceanside Icebreakers and an 11-0 stomping of the Cowichan Valley Capitals on the road, finished off preseason tiering with a perfect 7-0 record.
“I would say we have a great group of kids who are committed to each other and the coaching staff,” said Handley, when asked to comment on how the season is shaping up. “We have the ability to compete with some of the higher end Tier 2 teams, but as a group we decided to stay in Tier 3 for the upcoming season and keep the confidence level as high as possible.”
Handley stressed the coaching staff wants to make sure all the players “have a positive experience — if we played at a higher level maybe some of the younger, less experienced kids wouldn’t get into key situations as often and they become disengaged and maybe don’t return. As an association our numbers are low so we need to keep these kids involved and returning.”
The Eagles have definitely looked sharp so far this season, which Handley feels is because the team is “pretty well balanced, with second year goaltender Griffin Handley looking refreshed and ready for a long run.”
He added the team’s defence are “big and mobile” and that the “emergence of Mannie Browne as a big shutdown, hard hitting guy is a bonus.”
Handley also pointed out Cole Klughart and David Klatt as tireless workers, and that “big Josh Nielsen and first year bantam Garrett Beek have impressed so far.”
As for offence, Handley added that “Our forwards possess some of the fastest speed in Tier 3, and first year players Kai Verbrugge and William Grant have fit in very well and look confident for the upcoming season. First year players Aron Kuufas and Kale Hunt are also starting to find their stride now and will only get better as the season wears on,” before mentioning that Tristan Mardell has had a great start offensively, “and with his tremendous speed he creates scoring chances on his own.”
Another first year Eagle who has really impressed Handley so far is Liam Norman, who is already “chipping in offensively and his play away from the puck has dramatically improved — not bad for a kid who was halfway through his first tryout skate and said he didn’t think he could continue. I told him ‘sure you can, and you will, because you aren’t quitting on my watch’.”
Handley also spoke highly of another forward, Tyler Roper, stating he “looks very good and has found his scoring ability again, but it’s his 200 foot game and willingness to be physical that’s been impressive.”
All in all, Handley feels the Eagles are looking poised to make a serious run at a Tier 3 league banner, then the playoff banner, and provincials after.
Port Hardy will be hosting the 2018/2019 Bantam Tier 3 provincial championships in March.