The North Island Bantam Eagles are now the proud owners of “double banners.”
After defeating the Sooke Thunderbirds 5-3 down island to take a one-game lead in the best-of-three playoff finals, the Eagles knew they needed to just win once more to punch their ticket to the BC Championships, hosted this year during spring break in West Vancouver.
“We’d talked this season about putting ourselves in the best position to be successful,” said head coach Glenn Moore, noting the team had won the Tier 2 league banner and then posted a 3-0 record in round robin playoffs, “which gave us home ice advantage for the semi-final and island finals.”
The second game of the best-of-three series was held on Saturday in the afternoon at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena in Port Hardy, and it seemed like the Eagles and the Thunderbirds were both feeling the nerves early on, as there weren’t too many shots on goal until late in the first period.
Eagles power forward Tye Morash ended up taking a bodychecking penalty with less than five minutes left on the clock, and the Thunderbirds capitalized on the power play thanks to Cole Friesen scoring from the slot with a beautiful shot top shelf at 3:53 (assists on the play went to Gracie Szadkowski and Grady Sluggett).
“The boys were super jacked to play in front of a full barn, even though we got down early we went into the first period intermission knowing we had done a lot of good things and we just needed to relax and get back to our game,” said Moore.
Morash came out of the intermission ready and willing to tie things back up, and he fired a rocket from the point past Thunderbirds goaltender Kurtis Hiltz at 17:13, assists going to captain William Grant and Adam Russell.
From that point on, it was all Eagles.
Christopher Töpfer fired the puck home from the top of the circle at 3:33 (assisted by Aren Kufaas and Grant), and then Jonah Johnson picked up his second goal of the playoffs at 2:44 (assisted by Russell and Morash) to give the Eagles a huge 4-1 lead going into the third period.
The third period was a little quieter, with Landon Turgeon scoring off a huge shot at 18:33, assisted by Grant, and then sniper Zach Spafford scored an insurance goal at 16:12, assisted by Lucca Stewart and Jack Barrett, to officially put the game out of reach.
Sluggett managed to get one more puck past Eagles goaltender Logan Lamothe at 14:56, assist going to Friesen, but that was all she wrote for the Thunderbirds as the game quietly came to an end 5-2.
Moore said he had to give the players all the credit for the win. “They battled hard for it,” he said, adding the team “found a way to get on the scoreboard and started rolling from there.”
After the game had ended and pictures with both banners were taken, the North Island Gazette spoke to Morash, Barrett, Topfer, Grant, and Lamothe about how they felt the season went, and what they expect at the BC Championships.
“I’m speechless, it was really incredible,” said Morash after getting to hold up both banners. “We played good as a team all year, had some downs and had some ups, but it was an all around good year.”
He noted he was determined to score after taking a penalty early in the game that cost them a goal, stating, “I knew I had to motivate the boys somehow and it worked out.”
As for the Thunderbirds, Morash stated while they are a good team and definitely gave the Eagles a battle, “we came out on top.”
He added “we just have to give it our all and see how it turns out,” when asked about the BC Championships.
Barrett said it “felt great” to beat the Thunderbirds. “We were down by one and then we came back and beat them because we worked as a team.”
He added it was a really special moment for them when Tanya Spafford pulled out the second banner (Tier 2 league banner they won earlier in the season) and gave it to them on the ice after the game, and he thinks they will do “really good” at the BC Championships as they’re going to try their hardest to win the tournament.
Töpfer said it felt “pretty good” to score the go-ahead goal in the second period against the Thunderbirds, and then noted, “as long as we play hard, we’ll do good” at the BC Championships.
“We’re going for three banners, two is not our goal,” stated Grant, with captain-like confidence. “We’re definitely trying to win provincials. There’s gonna be a lot of good teams there, but I think we’re ready for it.”
Lamothe said it “felt great” to win, adding the team has been “working hard all season to get to this point, and now that we got here, we just battled through Sooke.”
He said while he felt like he could have played better in the series, “whatever, we won,” and his prediction for the BC Championships is “we will see how we do when we get there.”
As for Moore, he noted it’s always tough to prepare for provincial championships.
“We will be playing teams from different regions and we have no real knowledge about their game, so in the next 10 days we will prepare ourselves as best as we can and try and have our game at a championship level. We will going there on a big high from recent successes, but knowing we still have a lot of work to do.”
Moore added he and his coaching staff wanted to thank everyone who came out to support the team throughout the entire season.