After a triumphant 7-5 first round playoff win against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, the North Island Bantam Eagles had another hometown showdown on Saturday, this time against the Tier 2 league champions, the Powell River Kings.
Prior to the game, coach Ryan Handley said the Eagles had their usual practice on Tuesday and were “loose and feeling good.”
Emotions were clearly running high, as both teams had a noticeable jump in their step during warm ups.
The puck officially dropped at 4:20 p.m. at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena in Port Hardy, and it was the Kings who came out charging, drawing first blood at 13:57 thanks to a garbage goal from Callum Street.
The Eagles would shut down the Kings offence after that, with defenceman David Klatt setting the tone early with two huge bodychecks, and the first period came to a close without anymore pucks finding the back of the Eagles’ net.
In the second period, the Eagles finally struck back.
Ethan Bono scored off a big rebound at 9:27, assisted by Joey Grant and Chelsea Noel.
The Kings would answer with a goal of their own minutes later, thanks to Dignan Winmill finding the twine behind Eagles goaltender Griffin Handley, and then Gavin Mastrodonato added another goal at 5:29 to make it 3-1 for the Kings going into the third period.
The Eagles looked determined to tie the game back up after coming out of the huddle, and they skated down the ice towards the Kings’ net.
Mannie Brown jammed the puck in at 17:38, assisted by Noel and Bono, to cut the Kings lead down to one.
The Eagles would come within inches of tying the game off a huge point shot on the power play, only to be beaten by the sound of the puck hitting the crossbar.
The Kings fired back after that, and would go on to add an insurance goal before the final buzzer sounded, giving them a 4-2 victory that the gritty Eagles definitely made them work for.
After the game, coach Handley said he felt the team “worked very hard today and I am very satisfied with our work ethic.”
He added they outplayed a quality team who are “probably the best Tier 3 or Tier 2 team on the Island. If we had buried a couple of our power play chances it would have been a different game, and we were without one of our top defence in Cole Klughart, so it made others play some bigger minutes.”
Handley was proud of how the Eagles responded to such a big game against a team that is known for their speed and puckhandling skills, adding, “We know we can play with them and we know if we can keep up our commitment and intensity we can beat them. They can be proud of themselves as they left it all out there.”
The Eagles will be travelling down island to play the Tier 3 Nanaimo Clippers on Feb. 10. The Clippers posted a 8-3 record in the Tier 4 division this year. If the Eagles win, they will move on to the semi-finals.
Handley said the Eagles had previously defeated the Clippers 11-1 in the preseason, and they are looking forward to the challenge of playing them on the road.