While it hasn’t been the easiest start to a season for the North Island Midget Eagles, they’ve still managed to persevere and earn their spot at the top of VIAHA’s Tier 3 standings.
After posting an average 2-3 record in preseason tiering with 15 goals for and 20 goals against, and earning bronze medals at a tournament in Oceanside, the Eagles opened their regular season with a road game against the gritty Kerry Park Islanders.
“We were down three guys with Luke Gage and Ryan Patterson injured and Keenan Jack serving a suspension so we went with eight forwards and four defence,” said head coach Ryan Handley. “We discussed playing a more structured game with attention to detail in our own end first, because when you’ve got a short bench it’s best to play simple and wait for mistakes.”
The Eagles listened to the coaching staff and it paid off big time.
They scored four goals over three periods, courtesy of Mathew Datos, Braden Walkus, Mannie Browne and Tristan Mardell (assists went to Liem Wadhams, Joey Grant x3, Datos, and Browne), and goaltender Avary Miller picked up her first shutout as a North Island Eagle.
“Everyone stepped up big and limited them to maybe 10-12 shots, so we helped Av out and she made a few nice stops to preserve her first Eagles shutout,” noted Ryan Handley. “Griffin hopped off the bench and went and grabbed her the puck – goalies stick together.”
There was no rest time for the Eagles after the big win, as they had their second league game scheduled the next day against the Oceanside Generals.
“We had Tye Morash and William Grant on loan from the bantam team to help us out,” said Ryan Handley. “We knew it would be a tougher game and it was. We started slow, took a bit to find our legs, but it was William and Tye who really gave us a spark and got us going. We had some guys who looked tired from Saturday and those two injected some life into us.”
The Generals would get on the scoreboard first at 13:59 thanks to Drew Foreman, but Walkus answered right back at 11:17 (assisted by Mardell) to tie things up.
With a minute left in the first period, Generals forward Steven Callewaert knocked the puck past Eagles’ goaltender Griffin Handley to take the lead back.
The Generals would add to their lead early in the second thanks to Denen Scott finding the back of the net at 19:43 to make it 3-1.
The Eagles returned fire quickly after that, with William Grant scoring on the powerplay at 17:02. Assist on the play went to Joey Grant.
The Generals kept pushing the Eagles from that point on, with Callewaert scoring at 17:07 to make it 4-2.
That was when Morash made his presence known, scoring at 16:43 (assist going to Browne) and then again at 8:55 to tie the game back up.
Into the third period the game went, and William Grant picked up his second goal of the game at 8:46 (assisted by Morash and Kai Cyr) and then Walkus finished things off with a goal at 5:21 (assists going to Joey Grant and Wadhams) to give the Eagles a big two-goal lead.
The Generals’ Adam Fyfe would score one more with 1:41 left on the clock, but that was how the game came to an end, with the Eagles stealing a very close 6-5 victory from the Generals’ grasp.
“I thought we played a decent game,” said Ryan Handley. “They got some bounces and we helped them by taking too many penalties. It’s a testament to our association and coaching when two guys can jump in and not only eat up some minutes but be effective and chip in with two goals each. Tye is a big boy and when he keeps it simple and uses his size and strength he’s an impact player. William works his butt off and is very smart, sees the ice well and stays disciplined, even when he’s getting knocked around. All in all, I’ll never critique a win, and if you would have told me we’d come home 2-0 with the guys we had out of the line up, I’d say ‘okay, we earned four points’ and we did.”
The Eagles will be back in action at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena in Port Hardy on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 with a crucial two-game series against the Peninsula Eagles.