The North Island Bantam Eagles went to war with the Powell River Kings on Sunday in the first game of their best-of-three series to see who would move on to provincials, and it was the Kings who ended up drawing first blood.
The puck dropped at 10:45 a.m. on a snowy morning in Port Hardy at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena, and you could tell right away that tensions were high, as both teams came out battling hard, bodychecking players into the boards, and passing well through the neutral zone.
The Kings, who recorded 171 penalty minutes in league play this year, continued to play undisciplined by taking an interference penalty at 12:43, and it paid off for the Eagles as Ethan Bono found the back of the net at 11:21 off a rebound, assists going to David Klatt and Joey Grant.
The Kings regrouped and poured on the offence from there, with Luke Shipley scoring from in front of the net at 10:47, and then Callum Street ripping a wrist shot past Eagles’ goaltender Griffin Handley at 10:00.
The Kings would go on to add one more goal before the end of the first period, thanks to Jackson Frost firing a wrist shot top shelf with 6:30 left on the clock, making it 3-1 for the Kings.
Eagles’ coach Ryan Handley said he felt the team looked tentative in the first “and weren’t winning enough puck battles.”
The second period saw the Kings’ Mason Windsor find the twine at 15:43 to give them a three-goal lead, before the Eagles suddenly started firing back.
Grant scored off a big rebound from the side of the net at 9:50, assisted by Bono and Eagles’ captain Tynan Klein-Beekman, to make it 4-2.
The Kings’ Ethan Taylor answered right back with a goal of his own at 8:14, but then Tyler Roper got the pass from Bono and buried a wrist shot top shelf with 7:50 left on the clock to cut the Kings lead back down to two.
“Our second period was much better, but we had a couple breakdowns in our own end and that can’t happen at this level against a team like that,” said Handley, who added those mistakes cost the Eagles big as they were converted into goals.
The Eagles came out of the dressing room for the third period looking determined, but so did the Kings, although they continued to play undisciplined by taking poor penalties.
The Eagles were dangerously close to capitalizing on their powerplay opportunities, but kept getting robbed by the posts. The Kings’ goaltender Nick Peters shut the door after that, and they would go on to add three more goals to the scoreboard, courtesy of Taylor, Shipley, and Tate Van Hees, and that was all she wrote for the Eagles, as the Kings took the 8-3 victory with them on their way back home to Powell River.
Handley felt the Eagles could have won the game. “The Kings kind of sat back a bit in the third and we had some good chances, but we have to be harder to play against.”
He pointed out the Kings scored six goals from within seven feet of the Eagles’ net, “and that was difference — you’ve gotta tie up sticks and make it hard on them and we didn’t do a good enough job of that.”
While the Eagles definitely didn’t play a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, “mistakes end up hurting you,” Handley added. “Our power play had some good looks, but again we have to bury those point blank chances and get the puck up off the ice, because their goalie plays the lower-half very well.”
Handley feels the Eagles need to “leave it all out there on the ice next weekend, or our season is over. It’s not easy getting here and it’s even tougher getting beyond this point, but we aren’t done yet. One shift at a time, we really have nothing to lose now.”