After two big wins at home, The North Island Midget Eagles finished preseason tiering off quietly down island against the Nanaimo Clippers last Saturday.
“It was the tale of two games, really,” said head coach Ryan Handley when asked to comment. “We came out a little tentative and seemed to be playing like we were a bit scared to engage.”
Despite this, the Eagles ended up opening the scoring five minutes into the first period, thanks to a goal from Braden Walkus, assisted by Joey Grant and Keenan Saunders.
“We started to get our legs under us, but they answered back and through to the ice clean the score was tied 1-1,” said Handley. “Avary Miller started the game and she kept us in it to that point — she’s such a hard worker and competes at a top level every minute she’s out there.”
Eagles’ goaltender Griffin Handley took over for Miller after the ice clean, “and we started to take the game over,” said Handley.
Walkus scored his second goal of the game off a power play, assisted by Luke Gage and Mannie Browne, and then a little over two minutes later, Gage found the back of the net (assisted by Walkus and Kai Cyr) to take a 3-1 lead after two periods of play.
“We told the guys to keep the tempo up and that we had full control of the game and force the issue,” said Handley. “We ended up getting a five minute power play after Josh Nielsen was crosschecked in the throat on what was a pretty vicious play.”
Despite being on the power play, the Eagles ended up slowing down and “looked dreadful and unenthusiastic and we lost our momentum,” Handley added.
Nanaimo stormed back from that point with three unanswered goals to win the game 4-3. “We had a couple of uncharacteristic neutral zone giveaways and a couple pucks bounce off guys and in, but when you aren’t playing the right way and working hard, the bounces won’t go your way and I wasn’t happy with the group after the game and challenged them to figure it out mentally because once the mental side of the game is gone, the rest is a hard train to stop,” said Handley, who added the team has “looked great at times and very unenthusiastic at other times and some guys need to bring more and work harder because half ass hockey doesn’t work.”
Handley noted hard practices are coming up this week as the Eagles will be preparing for their first tournament of the year in Comox.