PORT HARDY — For two periods Saturday, the North Island Eagles bantams played a cat-and-mouse hockey game with the visiting Kerry Park Islanders.
Then, with a bit of firm encouragement from their coaches, the Eagles pounced.
Curtis McCarrick scored a hat trick and Cole Rennie added two goals as the bantams rolled to an 8-3 victory that moved them within two wins of a berth in the B.C. Provincial Tier 3 Championships.
The Eagles (21-11) will travel this weekend to Victoria to face the Hawks in the opener of the best-of-3 Island finals series. The teams will return to the North Island the weekend of Mar. 5-6 for either one or two games that will determine the Island's Tier 3 representative to provincials.
Game times and sites for the finals series have not yet been announced by the VIHL.
Despite dominating play through most of the first two periods, the Eagles led just 3-2, due to a combination of an inability to finish plays and some sloppy work that gave the Islanders a pair of easy chances.
"We can't let that carry on through the playoffs," bantam coach Mike Bell said. "Because one of these times the mouse will turn around and bite the cat.
"But they stepped up and played hard when they needed to."
It started with the third-period puck drop, which McCarrick won, then carried into the zone for a quick goal that put the Eagles up 4-2. Tyson Cadwallader followed with a goal, McCarrick scored again, and David Shaw and Brett Walker also got into the act.
By the time the ice shavings had settled, the score was 8-2 and a late tally by Kerry Park against winning goalie Riley Mathieson with 1:04 remaining was rendered meaningless.
"If we play Eagles hockey and move our feet, we'll be OK going forward," said Bell, who used Saturday's game to juggle lines and work different combinations of players into the penalty kill and power-play units.
Chad Bell and Matthew Cahill each had three assists in the victory. Cadwallader had two helpers, and Riley Browne and McCarrick added single assists.
The bantams finished the round-robin portion of the playoffs with a 4-0 record, including a 5-3 road win over Victoria, their opponent in the upcoming Island finals.