PORT McNEILL — Apparently home cooking sets well with the young North Island Eagles atom development teams.
Justin Sexton scored a hat trick Saturday as the atoms outdueled Comox Valley 7-6 in their first home contest since winning an exhibition over Campbell River three weeks earlier.
In between, the atoms suffered three straight road losses in Vancouver Island Hockey League placement action. But there was no giving up Saturday, even when the Eagles fell behind 3-1 midway through the opening period.
“They earned that one,” head coach Marty Gage said. “It was a well-deserved win. They showed a lot of heart.”
The Eagles also showed it wasn’t a fluke, making a trip to Comox the following day and repeating the victory over the Chiefs in an exhibition contest, this time by a 6-4 score.
Clayton Bono added two goals and two assists in Saturday’s win, and Mathew Saunders and Carson Strang also scored goals. Michael McLaughlin and Avary Miller split time in net, and helped keep the Eagles close while they mounted their comeback.
“The goaltenders made the difference in that game,” Gage said.
Payton Laming contributed two assists and Saunders and Tianna Walkus had one helper each for the atom squad, which is made up entirely of first-year rep development players. The program was dormant for the past two years before increased turnout at this fall’s tryouts allowed the team to resume VIHL play.
And Gage and his assistants have made it a point to emphasize the youngsters are facing a higher level of competition than they did during their days of house hockey.
“We’ve been pretty hard on ’em,” Gage admitted after Saturday’s win. “That was a lot of hard work paying off out there.”