North Island Eagles bantam Tanner Roberts

Slow start dooms bantams in loss

PORT HARDY—Eagles finish strong, but are unable to complete comeback from early deficit.

PORT HARDY—The North Island Eagles bantam hockey team found little consolation in winning half a hockey game Saturday. After all, the scoreboard reflects the full 55 minutes.

After falling behind 3-0 in the early going and trailing 4-1 at the mid-game, ice-cleaning break, the Eagles controlled play over the second half of the game but managed just one score in a 4-2 loss to Cowichan Valley in the teams’ Division 3 league finale.

The bantams finished 3-6-3 in league play, good for sixth in the seven-team division. On the other hand, Division 3 was heavily-populated by Tier 2 teams, which they will not face as they prepare to host the Provincial Tier 3 playoffs in March in Port Hardy.

Back on the first hand, though, Cowichan is one of the Tier 3 programs they will have to contend with in the Vancouver Island championships, and Saturday’s game points out the need for a 55-minute team effort, the coaching staff pointed out.

“The effort was there in the first half,” assistant coach Chad McKenzie said. “But when they buy into the team concept, we do well, and they bought into after the break. That’s why we won the second half.”

Strong goaltending by Nigel Walkus kept the Eagles in the game early as Cowichan controlled the run of play. The visitors finally broke through with back-to-back goals barely a minute apart near the end of the first period, and pushed their lead to 4-0 with another pair — again roughly a minute apart — in the first six minutes of the second period.

Eagles defenseman Evan Fox finally got the hosts on the board with an unassisted score midway through the second, just before the ice-cleaning break, and that seemed to usher in a change in the game.

“It’s amazing what a sense of urgency seems to do for them,” co-coach Greg Fox said of the bantams.

The Eagles came out pressing the action, though the work of Generals’ netminder Kayden Campbell and his defence kept them from finding the back of the net. Tanner Roberts finally broke through with a point-blank rebound goal at 8:24 of the third period to make it 4-2. But, while Walkus was untouchable after the opening 30 minutes, neither could the Eagles manage another puck past Campbell the rest of the way.

The coaches didn’t want to make excuses, but did acknowledge the bantams were skating shorthanded, with both Benton Browne (shoulder) and Michael Perez (wrist) unavailable to injury. Another player was skating at less than full strength with a rib issue.

“Our roster was already thin,” McKenzie noted. “People realize they can’t look down the bench for someone else to take it.”

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