PORT McNEILL—The North Island Eagles atom development team wrapped up its regular league season Saturday with a well-played game that ended in a 4-1 loss to the Cowichan Valley Capitals at Chilton Regional Arena.
Clayton Bono scored the Eagles’ lone goal on a rebound of a point shot by Braden Walkus in the third period.
The atoms were coming off a successful showing one week earlier in a tournament in Campbell River.
In that tourney, the team reached the championship final before falling 2-1 in a shootout to host Campbell River. The teams played to a 1-1 draw through regulation and a scoreless, 4-on-4 overtime before the Tyees potted two penalty shots to one for the Eagles.
“(Goalie) Michael McLaughlin was phenomenal in net; if it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t have had the weekend we did,” said head coach Marty Gage, who was without the services of second goalie, Avary Miller, due to illness.
The rivals are as evenly matched as two hockey teams can be. The atoms skated to a 6-6 tie with Campbell River earlier in the tournament, and the teams previously tied on two other occasions this season in league and exhibition play.
The Eagles followed the tournament-opening tie with a 4-1 win over Comox, then perhaps the most exciting game of the season in a round-robin matchup with Saanich.
The Braves raced to a 4-0 lead over the Eagles giving little indication of what was to come. “What happened next was an incredible experience I will never forget,” said Gage. “We have a flair for the dramatic, to say the least.”
The Eagles chipped away at the Saanich lead to creep within 4-3. With a minute-and-a-half to play, Gage pulled his goalie, and Tianna Walkus struck for the tying goal. Then, with just six seconds to play, Walkus, a blueliner, scored her second goal to give the atoms a 5-4 win. Walkus was named to the tournament all-star team on defence.
Riding the momentum from that win, the Eagles stunned Cowichan Valley 4-1 in the semifinals to earn a championship rematch with Campbell River.
“The team played their best hockey of the year,” said Gage. “And it was a coming-out party for Tianna Walkus. The coaches and the players represented the North Island very well and should all be proud of themselves.”