After suffering their first league play loss of the season against the Juan De Fuca Grizzlies, the North Island Bantam Eagles were more than ready to bounce back.
“The team has been up against a few extra challenges these past few weeks,” said assistant coach Chad Mackenzie when asked to comment on how the Eagles were feeling going into the weekend. “We were down four skaters, but with some true North Island grit and pride they met the challenge head on.”
The Eagles had an important two-game series at the Chilton Regional Arena in Port McNeill, with the first matchup against the Tier 2 Nanaimo Clippers (1-2 league play record) taking place on Saturday afternoon.
Right from the first drop of the puck the Eagles were out on the attack, taking the fight right to the Clippers despite having a short bench with only 11 skaters.
The gritty work in the offensive zone would soon pay off, as Captain William Grant found the back of the net at 5:29 of the first period, assists going to Lucca Stewart and Jack Barrett.
Into the second period the game went, and this time it was Barrett who knocked the puck past Clippers’ goaltender Tristin Stephens on the power play at 14:27 to give them a big two-goal lead (assists going to Stewart and Zach Spafford).
The Clippers dug deep from that point on looking to score, but Eagles’ goaltender Logan Lamothe hung tough with some great saves to keep it 2-0 going into the ice clean.
After the clean, the tempo of the game went right back to how it first started. The Eagles kept attacking and Stephens kept the Clippers in it with some great saves of his own.
Early in the third period, the Clippers’ Rylan Prescesky managed to get the puck past Lamothe, but that was pretty much it for them offensively. The Eagles came out firing and blew the game wide open. Power forward Tye Morash netted a shorthanded goal at 13:21, and then Spafford scored at 12:44 and 7:57 (Spafford now has 13 goals in nine league play games), with assists on the plays going to Morash, Christopher Topfer, Aren Kufaas and Barrett.
Landon Turgeon then iced the game off with a goal at 1:13 to make it a 6-1 blowout for the hometown team as the final buzzer sounded.
There was not a lot of rest time for the Eagles after the victory over the Clippers, as they had to be ready the next day for a showdown with the top team in their division, the fast skating Tier 1 Comox Valley Chiefs (4-0 in league play).
If they were tired from beating up on the Clippers the day before, the Eagles didn’t show it. They got off to a fast start against the Chiefs, with Grant scoring from the slot at 13:55, assists going to Morash and Turgeon.
The Eagles kept pressuring the Chiefs, and Grant again found the back of the net with nine seconds left in the period, giving them a two-goal lead (assists on the play went to Spafford and Barrett).
The Eagles continued their strong play in the second period, with AP player Jayden Bucci (who had been called up from the house league to fill in due to the short bench) firing home a beautiful shot past the Chiefs’ goaltender Taner Penner at 7:00, assisted by Morash and Garrett Beek.
Morash grabbed the puck after the whistle and gave it to Bucci as a memento to remember his first goal as an Eagle.
Into the third period the game went, and the Chiefs finally managed to get the puck past Lamothe at 13:05 thanks to Isaac Dunsire finding the twine on a power play (assisted by Brodie Howell). The Chiefs’ Anthony Alexander would then score at 12:33 to make it 3-2.
The tempo of the game had suddenly changed, and the Eagles knew they needed to respond, or the Chiefs would surely find the game-tying goal before the final buzzer went.
That was when Kufaas made his presence known, knocking in a big rebound on the power play at 11:29 (assisted by Nathan Strang and Grant) and then scoring on another power play in front of the net at 9:55 (assisted by Morash) to give the Eagles a huge three-goal lead.
With the game all but over, Alexander managed to get one more shot past Lamothe at 2:54, but that was all she wrote for the Chiefs, as the Eagles skated away with a 5-3 win over the top ranked team in the division.
After the game, Mackenzie said the team really began to refocus while playing down island in a Tier 1 tournament, “and those efforts worked themselves into our practices and showed up again in our games. Multiple players have stepped up their personal efforts, and the reward was the team earning two big wins.”
Mackenzie said he was also proud to see the players watching and cheering on the other Eagles’ teams this weekend. “It’s always amazing to see how our little communities can produce such genuine high end athletes year in and year out.”
Next up for the Eagles is another important two-game series against the Victoria Admirals on Nov. 23-24 at the Chilton Regional Arena in Port McNeill.