PORT McNEILL—After blitzing through their placement-round schedule unbeaten, the North Island Eagles midget hockey team found somewhat tougher sledding in their Division 3 regular-season opener Saturday at Chilton Regional Arena.
Then again, the coaching staff said the squad bears much of the responsibility for a 3-0 blanking at the hands of Juan de Fuca T2.
“We have a very good passing team that decided to come out and play an individual game, against a team that’s fast and that plays the same style we do,” Eagles head coach Aaron Hinton said.
In the first half of play, there was very little about the teams that seemed similar. The visiting Grizzlies employed that speed to great effect, beating the hosts to loose pucks and jumping into passing lanes when puck-handlers waited too long to share.
Still, despite facing a series of odd-man rushes in the early going, midget goalie Nyck Ruel kept Juan de Fuca off the board until Eric Le managed to snap a wrist shot from the left circle that caromed off Ruel’s glove and into the net with 4:54 to play in the first period.
The Eagles’ best team hockey came in the late-first and early second periods, when they successfully killed a five-minute stretch short-handed that included a double-minor and a minute of 3-on-5 play. But all that work was erased when, midway through the period, sloppy puck-handling on a power play allowed the Grizzlies’ Holden Cochrane a short-handed breakaway chance and goal that gave Juan de Fuca a 2-0 lead at the break.
After intermission, the Eagles were clearly a different team, and used a solid forecheck to pin the Grizzlies in their own end for extended stretches. But they rarely forced Spandli to move in net, and the goalie was up to the task of stopping or deflecting shots from a squared-up position.
“Their goalie had a good game,” Eagles assistant coach John Murgatroyd said. “He’s a big kid and he moves well. But when you’re not moving the puck you can make a goalie look better than he is.”
The midgets’ strong forecheck continued well into the third period, and the team seemed to have a golden opportunity to cut the deficit in half when they went on their final power-play. But Cochrane once more got free on a short-handed breakaway and, again, made good on the rush to provide the final margin.
From that point on the hosts went back to a scrambling style as Juan de Fuca was content to trap and frustrate the Eagles with dump-and-chase tactics.
“You can’t play this level of hockey individually,” Murgatroyd said. “The good thing is, we have smart guys on our team. They’re gonna correct that.”