In front of a packed crowd Saturday night at the Chilton Regional Arena in Port McNeill, the North Island Capitals dominated their home opener against the visiting Kelowna Sparta.
The game was a hard-hitting affair right from the drop of the puck, with the Capitals going on the offensive early and often.
Capitals forward Shelby Cockell opened the scoring at 11:03 of the first period, and then Jack Kennelly put the puck in the net with 2:41 left to make it 2-0 going into the second period.
The Sparta battled back from that point, knocking the puck past Capitals goalie Aaron Hinton at 18:27, and then scoring again on the power play with 8:27 left in the second period to tie it up 2-2.
The Capitals returned the favour, thanks to Jackson Garrett scoring off a hard point shot through traffic to put his team back in the lead. Eric Kennelly followed that up by knocking the puck in from the side of the net with 3.3 seconds left on the clock to give the Capitals a 4-2 lead.
Hinton shut the door from there, making plenty of great saves, diving all over the ice in a style reminiscent of Dominic Hasek, to keep the Capitals lead secure.
Garrett then skated into the Sparta’s zone on a breakaway and victimized their goalie Shane Mainprize with a beautiful deek at 15:30 of the third period, making it 5-2 for the Capitals.
The Sparta managed to score once more at 12:58, but that was all she wrote, as the Capitals Ty Morton scored off a point shot at 8:50, and then Brian Rideout notched an insurance goal with 1:11 left on the clock to secure a hard-fought 7-3 victory.
All told, the Capitals made the Sparta pay dearly by checking to the body against the boards, had roughly 30-35 shots on net, showed lots of jump in their skating, and broke the Sparta’s will to win, mainly thanks to Hinton making the big saves when they mattered the most.
The rematch was held the next day at 10:00 a.m., once again at the Chilton Regional Arena in Port McNeill, and this time the game went a little bit different.
The Capitals again got out to an early lead thanks to a goal from the side of the net by Cockell, but the Sparta responded with a goal of their own to tie it up minutes later, and then added another goal before the end of the first period to make it 2-1.
The Sparta struck again in the second period, scoring two more goals to take a 4-2 lead going into the third period.
In the third, the Capitals tried to pull off the comeback, but ultimately couldn’t get the job done, falling 5-4 in what was a very close battle.
The Capitals next home games are Dec. 2-3 at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena in Port Hardy vs. the South Island Knights.