PORT ALICE—A strong start and strong goaltending by Kayden Jones slipped away in the final minutes Saturday as the North Island Eagles atom development hockey team settled for a 4-4 tie with Nanaimo in their final tiering-round game before beginning regular-season play.
“It feels like a loss,” Eagles coach Marty Gage said after the atoms were unable to hold a 4-1 lead with 6:34 left to play.
The visiting Clippers outshot the Eagles (8-3-1) by a substantial margin, but were stymied by Jones, who carried a shutout into the final 10 minutes and who was named player of the game.
Ryan Patterson’s point-blank shot off a Rhys Dutcyvich rebound staked the atoms to a 1-0 lead at 5:44 of the opening period, and Mathew Saunders made it 2-0 with a similar rebound goal off Tynan Klein-Beekman’s point shot at 3:13 of the second.
The North Islanders were able to hold play in the Nanaimo zone for long stretches, but the Clippers employed a solid backcheck to keep the hosts from sending a volume of shots on net.
And when the visitors did escape their zone, they often caught the Eagles defenders out of position and left the forwards chasing the play from behind.
That resulted in several breakaways and odd-man rushes and, after Jones made solid saves on several of them, the Clippers finally broke through and crept within 2-1 on a breakaway goal by Nolan Ross with 9:32 remaining.
That seemed to light a fire under the Eagles, who took the ensuing face-off, carried it deep into the Nanaimo end and made it 3-1 eight seconds later when Patterson kept his own rebound alive with several shots before finally punching it home.
And the hosts seemed to have things well in hand when, less than two minutes later, Dutcyvich took a forward pass from Payton Laming on a 2-on-1 rush and converted from the bottom of the circle to make it 4-1 with 7:34 left.
But Nanaimo’s Noah East skated through a pair of defenders to beat Jones point-blank with 6:34 left, Stryden Hult-Griffin was left alone for an off-side rebound score with 4:56 to go, and East netted a tying goal that Jones never saw through a heavy screen of traffic in the slot with 3:11 to go.
“Poor positional play in our own end hurt us,” said Gage. “We spent too much time skating around and chasing.”
To their credit, the Eagles regained the momentum, and spent most of the final minute-and-a-half working in the Clippers’ zone. But they could not push home the go-ahead goal.
The game was the first this season in Port Alice Arena, which just had its ice installed. That meant a home-ice appearance for Aidan Watson and Klein-Beekman, local youths in their first season in the program.
They are part of a group of just 12 skaters, mixed evenly between returning atoms and first-year players still getting up to the speed of the rep development level.
“Tynan had his best game of the year for us,” Gage said of Klein-Beekman, who finished with two assists. “You can tell he’s really starting to understand the game.”
Watson also chipped in an assist on the Eagles’ final goal, and said he is fully on board with games at the local arena.
“It’s cold,” he said. “And I don’t have to drive to another town to play.”