The North Island Bantam Eagles kicked off regular season play in style by blasting the Kerry Park Islanders with both barrels on home ice.
After going undefeated throughout preseason tiering, the Eagles ended up being ranked in VIAHA’s Tier 2 bantam division and were immediately scheduled for a rematch against the Islanders on Saturday afternoon in Port McNeill at the Chilton Regional Arena.
The previous game between the two teams had ended in a hard fought 9-3 win for the Eagles, with head coach Glenn Moore calling it a “hard hitting, chippy affair,” adding, “It was the first time this season our first year guys had played in such a game, and I thought they handled themselves very well.”
The rematch on Saturday turned out to be more of a ‘run and gun’ style of game, as the Islanders definitely came to skate against the Eagles instead of instigate penalties.
Both teams were battling for the puck early on in the first period with chances happening at both ends of the ice, but it was the Eagles who drew first blood when Captain William Grant passed the puck from behind the net out front to Jack Barrett, who then made a great backhand pass in the slot to Kale Hunt, who buried it past Islanders’ goaltender Vaughn Purinton at 7:26.
The Eagles would continue to control the puck from there, and their dogged efforts in the Islanders’ zone paid off as Lucca Stewart converted in front of the net with 3:15 left on the clock (assist on the play went to Zach Spafford).
The second period featured more of the same, as the Eagles’ offence continued to apply pressure while their defencemen put in a gritty effort in the back end to keep the puck away from the net.
The Eagles also took advantage of their five on four power play opportunities. After the Islanders took a high sticking penalty, Grant fired a slap shot from the blue line and Barrett jumped all over the rebound, knocking it in at 17:13 to make it 3-0.
Another positive for the Eagles was the presence of power forward Tye Morash, who was all over the ice driving to the net with authority. Morash barrelled through the Islanders’ defence and deked around Purinton at 13:36 to give the Eagles a strong four-goal lead.
While the Eagles’ juggernaut offence was firing on all cylinders, they did have a few defensive mistakes that cost them.
Islanders’ forward Zachary Rockson fired a sneaky shot past Eagles’ goaltender Logan Lamothe at 8:37, but the Eagles answered right back at 6:06 off a huge slap shot from Landon Turgeon, which was beautifully set up by defenceman Garrett Beek.
Blaise Bennefield managed to fire the puck past Lamothe with 2:05 left on the clock in the second period, assisted by Adyn Yuill, to make it 5-2 going into the third and final period, but that was all she wrote for the Islanders.
After netting two more power play goals in the third at 7:14 and 5:54 courtesy of Spafford and Hunt (assists going to Grant, Barrett, Spafford and Turgeon), the Eagles’ home opener quietly came to an end 7-2.
After the game, Moore said one positive he took away from the experience was “we were able to get the win” but added that “on the flip side of that, we are still making a lot of mistakes inside our defensive zone.”
Moore noted the team has “talked about these defensive mistakes, we practice them, but then the puck drops and we fall into old habits — hopefully if we keep working at it those old habits will become the good habits of making the right play at the right time.”
All told, Moore said he was pleased with how the rematch went for the Eagles, stating that when the two teams had played previously in preseason tiering, there were “lots of penalties. I thought our boys were very disciplined today and eliminated the chasing penalties that we got in our last game. Overall I think the coaching staff was happy with the result, but the bar must go higher if we hope to be successful.”
The Eagles will be back in action Nov. 2 in Port Hardy against the Juan De Fuca Grizzlies at 2:00 p.m.