PORT McNEILL—The North Island Eagles peewee rep hockey team took a pair of losses last weekend at Chilton Regional Arena to kick off the tiering round of play in the Vancouver Island Hockey League.
Then again, it’s not as if the peewees were planning to win the provincial championship on opening week.
“For the most part, the kids did just what we expected,” head coach Conrad Browne said. “We’re proud of them for what they did this weekend.”
The peewees were overwhelmed Saturday in dropping a 12-2 decision to Victoria. Things got a bit closer Sunday — and the young squad even controlled play for an extended stretch following ice-cleaning — but ended in a 6-2 loss to Comox Valley.
Clayton Bono, a first-year peewee moving up from the atom development program, was the offensive star for the hosts, netting both goals Sunday after converting an assist from David Charlie Jr. for Saturday’s final goal. Charlie also scored Saturday against Victoria, lifting home a wrist shot from the slot on a breakaway.
Otherwise, most of the highlights went to first-year peewee goalie Michael McLaughlin, who spent all six periods in the thick of the action.
“Michael stood on his head for us this weekend,” said Browne.
It is safe to say the peewee squad comes into the 2012-13 season without lofty expectations. Only four second-year players return to the squad, one of whom played part-time in an associate player capacity. The rest are up from the atom development program or entirely new to the faster pace and hitting of rep hockey.
“We’ve got a pretty wide range of skill levels on the team,” said Browne.
Hitting hockey is a skill few of the current crop of players is versed in, and it showed on opening weekend. Both opposing teams were noticeably larger than the Eagles, and when play was stopped for a body prone on the ice, it was typically wearing the gold-and-black of the North Islanders.
But there were no long-term injuries from the contact, and Browne noted all the players had gone through a checking clinic and been through the first two hitting practices of the season.
“Taking that from practice to a game is something different,” he admitted. “But they’re gonna be fine.”
He admitted this would be a learning and development season for the club. In theory, they will not have to do so against the league powerhouses. The point of tiering games, which continue through the second weekend of October, is to sort teams into comparable groups for divisional play in the regular season, and the peewees should be slotted with similar developing squads.
Already, that learning seems to be taking place. After surrendering four unanswered goals in the first half of Saturday’s game against Comox, and another shortly after ice-cleaning to fall behind 5-0, the peewees suddenly picked up on defence in front of McLaughlin, cleared pucks and broke out of their zone to apply pressure to the visitors.
Bono’s first goal came after he took a lead pass from defenseman Elliot Furney, another first-year peewee, and skated in to unleash a slap shot from the left circle. The second came on a one-timer from the bottom of the circle, off a nifty crossing pass from the corner by Devin White.
That made it 5-2 early in the third period, and the Eagles had several more chances before the Chiefs closed out the scoring with their only goal over the final 18 minutes. The Eagles also successfully killed all three of their penalties, one day after giving up a pair of short-handed scores.
“We just reiterated defensive coverage, and the fact that the game starts with defence,” said Browne. “You could see them pick it up as we went along.”