There’s no guarentees when it comes to playoff hockey.
After a tough 5-2 loss in Powell River to kick off the North Island Bantam Eagles playoff run, the Eagles returned to home ice for a two-game series against the Cowichan Valley Capitals and the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
The Eagles faced off against the Capitals first on Saturday at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena, and did they ever show them no mercy, netting 14 unanswered goals over three periods. Goals were scored by Tyler Roper, Tristan Mardell (x4), Liam Norman, William Grant, Kai Verbrugge (x3), captain David Klatt (x2), Mannie Browne, and Tye Morash.
After the game, head coach Ryan Handley stated he felt the Eagles “did a good job staying focused and playing the right way. It’s a mental challenge more than anything in games like those, and we touched on it before the game.”
With the blowout win over the Tier Four Capitals on their backs, the Eagles would take on the Tier Two Alberni Valley Bulldogs the next day in what would end up being the most important game of the playoffs for both teams.
The Eagles would get out to an early lead at 11:31 thanks to Kale Hunt banging home a rebound, but the Bulldogs would answer back with a goal of their own at 5:11.
With time winding down, Browne picked up the puck from goaltender Griffin Handley and went on an end to end rush, deking around the defence and flipping the puck past the Bulldog’s massive goaltender to make it 2-1 as the hometown crowd cheered loudly.
That was when the wheels fell off the cart.
The Bulldogs would find the back of the net five times in the second period, and then twice more in the third period, while the Eagles only managed to score four more goals thanks to Verbrugge (x2), Hunt, and Norman.
Final score — 9-6 for the Bulldogs, who went back home to Alberni Valley on snow-covered roads celebrating their well earned victory.
Handley said he was frustrated with how the team played, stating they were “too undisciplined, which we talked about pre-game and at ice clean.”
He noted the Bulldogs scored four power play goals “and that was the difference in the game. When your leaders and top guys spend half the game in the penalty box it’s pretty tough – selfish play and running around making it about yourself doesn’t win many games.”
While Handley was upset with how the final score of the game turned out, he said he was happy with a few players who he felt really elevated their games.
“Mannie, Liam, Kai, Tristan and Kale really stood out and didn’t quit,” he said. “We needed more from some guys and never got it. I left the arena today pretty frustrated and a bit embarrassed at our lack of discipline in the biggest game of the year and we failed. They knew we had to win and for some it didn’t seem like it mattered. Focus, commitment, discipline and heart are what we needed, unfortunately it hasn’t been there for a bit now and it will show against good teams. I’m extremely disappointed, so now we have to regroup and find a way to get better before provincials or it will be tough for us.”
With losses to Powell River and Port Alberni, the Eagles playoff run will come to a quiet end down island next weekend against the Nanaimo Clippers.
The Tier Three Bantam Provincial championships are held in Port Hardy this year, March 17-20 at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena.