PORT HARDY — The scoring woes continued for the young North Island Eagles peewee rep hockey team Saturday. Unfortunately, that was coupled with an uncharacteristically soft defensive performance as the peewees absorbed a 9-2 defeat to the Nanaimo Clippers in Vancouver Island Hockey League Division 4 play at Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena Saturday.
After spotting the visitors two goals each in the first period and the first half of the second period, the Eagles got on the scoreboard on a goal by Kenton Browne that sent the teams to intermission at 10:40 of the second.
Another Clippers goal after ice-cleaning was followed by Browne’s second tally of the game to make it 5-2, but that was all the offence the squad could muster and Nanaimo walked away by potting the final four goals of the game.
Sean Pineda had two assists and Clayton McDonald contributed a helper for the Eagles in the loss.
Browne, Pineda, goalie Nyck Ruel and defenseman Tyrell Davidson are the only second-year players back from last season’s peewee squad.
With the North Island program having gone without an atom development program for the past two seasons, the rest of the roster is made up of skaters in their first year of rep hockey, most of them as first-year peewees who spent last year playing atom house hockey.
Head coach Brian Heller remarked on the learning curve the team faces and noted progress that hasn’t yet translated into victories, though most of the team’s games have been close, low-scoring affairs.
Clayton Bono’s breakaway goal with 17 seconds remaining Sunday lifted the surprising Eagles atom development team to a 4-3 win over Peninsula and a sweep of their first road trip in Division 3 league play.
On Saturday, the Eagles edged the Saanich Braves 5-4 to kick off the trip.
“During the pregame talk to the kids, I told them first impressions are huge, and this is the first and only time these (Saanich) kids will play their first game against the North Island Eagles,” atom coach Marty Gage said. “Our kids responded well and their performance surely created a lasting impression.”
The road wins promptly lifted the Eagles to the top of the Division 4 standings, tied with Comox with a 2-0 record. After playing a pair of exhibition games against Campbell River in Port McNeill this weekend, the atoms will host Comox Nov. 19 in Port Alice in their return to league play.
Gage was impressed with his players’ ability to pull out wins in two very different types of games. Against Saanich Saturday, the Eagles out-chanced the hosts throughout the contests but were stymied by a solid goaltender. Trailing 4-3 entering the third period, they atoms finally broke through with the tying and go-ahead goals over the final 20 minutes.
On Sunday at Peninsula, the Eagles never trailed but found themselves locked in a tie and back on their heels for much of the final period.
“We spent the last two minutes of the third (period) in our end, desperately trying to get the puck out and blocking shots,” Gage said. “Then Bono pokes the puck past the defenseman and goes in on a breakaway.”
Gage credited strong positional play and the work of goaltenders Michael McLaughlin and Avary Miller with a pair of well-deserved road wins.
“Of course we have areas we need to improve on, and we lost our legs toward the end of the second game,” he said. “But those kind of victories are what brings teams together, and I’m proud of the kids.”
Tier 2 play is proving to be a challenge for the North Island Eagles bantams in the early going of the 2001-12 hockey season.
Flying high after opening the preseason with a 6-0 record in exhibition and placement-round games, the bantams were bumped up a division for regular-season play.
Last weekend’s road trip brought them back to earth, however, with a 6-3 loss at Oceanside followed by a stinging 12-2 defeat Sunday in Comox.
The bantams (0-3 in league play) have a week to lick their wounds before returning to the road for a league game at Powell River Nov. 19. Their next action at home will be a rematch with Oceanside Nov. 26 in Port McNeill.
The North Island Eagles midget rep team had a bye week, and will travel this week for a Remembrance Day weekend tournament in Port Alberni. Tier 3 league play will resume for the midgets (1-1) Nov. 19 with a game against Kerry Park in Port Alice.