The Tier 3 Bantam Championships have arrived in Port Hardy.
After a lively player banquet Saturday night at the Civic Centre that featured former Vancouver Canuck Gino Odjick as a guest speaker, the North Island Bantam Eagles took over the ice the next morning at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena in a first round match up against the Kelowna Rockets.
In front of a jam-packed hometown crowd passionately cheering them on, the Eagles looked a little tentative throughout the majority of the first period, and it was the Rockets who would capitalize first at 14:21 thanks to a shot from the slot that was deflected past Eagles’ goaltender Griffin Handley.
The Rockets would continue to control possession of the puck from there, but they just weren’t able to add to their lead before the buzzer went, mainly thanks to the Eagles strong defensive work in their own zone.
Into the second period the game went, and it was the Eagles who finally started to find their legs and build confidence with more shots on net and some solid physical play along the boards.
After the Rockets were given back to back penalties, the Eagles would use the five on three man advantage to score at 11:44 thanks to a quick slapshot through traffic from defenceman Mannie Browne, which was assisted by William Grant.
With the game tied 1-1, the Eagles would start to pressure hard in search of the go ahead goal, and it was defenceman Cole Klughart who wound up and fired a rocket top shelf at 7:59, assisted by Liam Norman.
The Rockets weren’t ready to throw in the towel just yet, and they came back down the ice and scored off a nice two on one passing play at 6:30 to tie it back up.
With time winding down in the period, the Eagles defence would strike again. Browne got the pass from Grant and fired a hard shot at the net with 2:05 left to go, which ended up being tipped in past the Rockets’ goaltender by Klughart, giving the Eagles the lead right back.
After the second intermission, the Eagles came out of the dressing room ready and willing to put the Rockets out to pasture.
The Eagles would dominate all aspects of the game throughout the third, and they blew the scoreboard wide open.
Kai Verbrugge converted off a hard shot from the slot at 14:37, Klughart would complete the hat trick with another huge slapshot at 6:34, and then Verbrugge would cap things off with his second goal of the day by banging home a rebound at 5:12, which was assisted by captain David Klatt.
Final score, 6-2 for the Eagles.
All told, the Eagles showed a quite a bit of resilience and grit by battling back into the game after a somewhat rocky start, and their defensive core really stepped up the plate with some big hits and timely goals.
The Eagles are back in action at 7:30 p.m. tonight against the Dawson Creek KFC Canucks.