PORT McNEILL—When the Sooke Thunderbirds charged from behind to tie Saturday’s atom development hockey game in Port Alice, the host North Island Eagles had no response.
The next day, the Eagles displayed an impressive counterpunch.
Luke Gage scored to snap a tie in the last minute and a half, and the Eagles went on to a 9-7 Vancouver Island Hockey League win over Sooke at Chilton Regional Arena in Port McNeill.
In Port Alice Saturday, Gage’s goal at 4:34 of the third period gave the Eagles a 5-2 advantage. But Sooke responded with a natural hat trick from Chris Piatkowski over the final 8:49 to earn the 5-5 draw.
In Sunday’s see-saw rematch, the visitors again fought from behind, even taking a 7-6 lead before the Eagles rallied.
“A real roller-coaster ride,” Eagles coach Marty Gage said. “My favourite part was how they showed a lot of heart.
“When a team starts to gain momentum, it can be hard to stop that momentum. Today, our guys never stopped fighting.”
With the score knotted 7-7, Luke Gage, knocked to his knees just in front of the crease, punched home a rebound off a Rhys Dutcyvich shot from the wing for the game-winner at 18:33.
Payton Laming added an insurance score on another point-blank rebound shot with just 55 seconds remaining.
Mathew Saunders capped his hat trick with the tying goal at 17:12 of the third, ending a 15-minute scoreless drought that saw the visitors turn a 6-3 deficit into a 7-6 lead with four unanswered goals.
Laming and Ryan Patterson both finished with two goals, Rhys Dutcyvich had a goal and four assists and Luke Gage had a goal and two assists in the win.
First-year goalie Kayden Jones earned the win in net. Laming, Patterson and Keenan Saunders, who was named player of the game, each added assists.
“I can’t say enough about the passing,” Marty Gage said. “This was the most unselfish game we’ve played.”
After spotting Sooke an early lead Saturday in Port Alice, the Eagles got a goal from Rhys Dutcyvich in the last 15 seconds of the opening period to force a 1-1 tie, and that score carried into the second half of the contest.
After the Zamboni break, both teams got busy. Gage and Liem Wadhams notched goals in the latter part of the second period to stake the hosts to a 3-1 lead before Sooke answered with just 17 seconds left in the period to make it 3-2.
The Eagles padded their advantage when Ryan Patterson scored off a Keenan Saunders assist just 25 seconds into the third, and Gage made it 5-2 on his unassisted score just more than four minutes later.
That set up Sooke’s big comeback over the final nine minutes.
“These teams are very evenly matched,” Marty Gage said. “That’s the way it should be.”
Mathew Saunders, Keenan Saunders (no relation) and Laming each had assists in the game.