PORT HARDY—The North Island Eagles peewee hockey team did not play a game over the recent Christmas holiday break.
But the peewees didn’t collect any rust, either.
Kenton Brown scored a hat trick and Josh Walkus added two goals Saturday as the peewees kicked off the new year the same way they ended the old one — with an 8-3 Vancouver Island Hockey League win over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
The Eagles, who finished up 2011 on a modest three-game winning streak in mid-December, pushed that streak to five Sunday with a 5-3 exhibition win in a rematch with the Bulldogs. Browne had four more goals Sunday, including the tying and game-winning goals as part of a natural hat trick.
“I wanted a break, and I wanted the kids to have one, too,” peewee coach Brian Heller said of his squad’s absence from the numerous tournaments held over the holidays. “I wanted them to have some time off to let some of the stuff we’ve been teaching them soak in. And you could see the difference this weekend.”
In both games, the Eagles fell behind Alberni in the early going. On Saturday, they trailed 1-0 entering the second period before Browne scored to kick off a flurry of five consecutive goals in the period.
On Sunday, the Bulldogs led 2-1 early in the second period before Browne’s top-shelf wrist shot from the slot started his three-goal run.
That continues a stark turnaround from the peewees’ early season struggles. The team is made up heavily of first-year players, and Triport Minor Hockey had no atom development program the past two years.
“It was just a question of would our second-year kids hold the line until the first-years caught up,” said Heller. “Looking at who we had and how they came to practice, I had a good feeling it would happen. Now those first-year kids are stepping up, and that’s let the second years take it up a notch.”
Nyck Ruel, the team’s only goalie, backstopped both victories.
Clayton McDonald, Sean Pineda and Nathan Sandeman added goals for the Eagles in Saturday’s win, which produced scoring from all four lines. Nigel Walkus had two assists, and Taylor Ranger, Josh Borg, Tim Alfred, David Charlie, Browne and Pineda had one each.
On Sunday, Pineda staked the Eagles to a 1-0 lead by converting off a Sandeman assist five minutes in. But Alberni knotted the score late in the first and jumped ahead with another goal early in the second. Browne sandwiched a pair of goals around the mid-game ice-cleaning to put the Eagles back in front, and buried a breakaway shot in the opening minute of the third to make it a 4-2 lead.
Alberni Valley drew within one on a score three minutes later, but Browne added another tally on a power play with 7:35 to go, giving the peewees plenty of breathing room when the Bulldogs tacked on the final score on their own power play at 14:53.
“You saw early in the year, when they’d get down a goal or two, their heads would drop and they’d lose confidence,” said Heller. “But now, they just pick it up and come out hard. This time of year, it’s all about mental toughness.”