After a tough weekend on the road where they tied the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and then lost a heartbreaker to the Kerry Park Islanders, the North Island Midget Eagles knew they needed to come out and dictate the pace in their last league game before the Christmas break.
The Eagles were scheduled for a date with the Oceanside Generals on Sunday afternoon at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena in Port Hardy, and did they ever get out to a fast start in front of a large hometown crowd by dominating possession of the puck right from the first whistle.
Their hard work digging for pucks ended up paying off for them, as Eagles’ forward Joey “Four Goals” Grant converted at 5:45, assisted by captain Ryan Patterson, to christen the scoreboard.
The Eagles kept firing on all cylinders from there.
Patterson found the back of the net at 1:03, assist going to Kai Cyr, and then with only 13 seconds left in the first period, Tristan Mardell buried a shot past Generals’ goaltender Isaac Belveal (assist on the play once again going to Cyr).
The Generals would regroup and come alive in the second period thanks to Evan Obodzinski firing the puck home on the power play at 18:19, assisted by Andrew McKinnon, but Braden Walkus would return fire less than 10 seconds later.
Walkus got the feed from Matthew Datos at the side of the net and fired the puck through his legs to give them a huge 4-1 lead.
The Generals’ Koen O’Connell did manage to knock the puck past Eagles’ goaltender Griffin Handley later on at 10:34, assisted by Mathew Green, but that was it for both teams when it came to the scoreboard, as neither team’s goaltender allowed anything to get past them for the entire third period.
The game quietly came to an end 4-2 in favour of the hometown Eagles as the passionate crowd in the stands cheered them on as the final buzzer sounded.
Head coach Ryan Handley said he thought it was “probably one of our best starts and first periods all year. We had everyone going and the bench was active and vocal with how we needed to work.”
Handley noted the team brought up second-year bantam player William Grant to give them three lines and six defensemen, “and it balanced our attack out. It turned out to be a good thing as we lost Jackie (Keenan Jack) to an injury in the second period and it’s too bad because I thought it was one of his better games — he had some real good looks but their goalie stoned him a couple times.”
As for the second period when the Generals started to mount a comeback, Handley said he felt the team “got away from our game a bit trying to make the cute play instead of just getting pucks out and deep and it cost us some time in our own zone, but when we had breakdowns Griff was there — he was huge for us during that part of the game.”
Handley added he thought the team was much better in the third period. “We stayed out of the box for the most part, which was something we had touched on pregame. It’s nice to have Bray back in the lineup as he does so many little things that make a big difference. Tristan was everywhere even though he didn’t feel his legs were there, and Keenan and Mannie had good games physically and made some nice plays in the defensive zone.”
All told, Handley felt everyone “definitely came to play and we were rewarded with a big W, now we get some rest and get ready for the push towards playoffs and hopefully we will have some good news in the new year and get Gager back and take a run at this thing.”
The Eagles are currently tied for first place in VIAHA’s Tier 3 division, with a big two-game series coming up Jan. 4-5 in Port McNeill against their bitter rivals, the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, who are knocking on the doorstep looking to claim the Eagles spot at the top of the division.