Any athletic team wants to go into its postseason playoffs with some momentum.
The North Island Eagles bantams will have to look for theirs during the upcoming bye week.
The Eagles came out sluggish Saturday in Port Alice en route to a 5-0 Vancouver Island Hockey League Division 2 loss to Saanich, then responded with an even more brutal start in a 9-2 drubbing by the Comox Chiefs Sunday in Port Hardy.
The Eagles surrendered five unanswered goals in the first period Sunday before Tyren Dustin snapped home the team’s first goal in three league games with 3:07 left in the period.
Riley Heemels added a third-period goal as the bantams played the visitors even over the final 20 minutes. But even when the Eagles matched their opponents’ intensity, goalie Riley Mathieson spent much of the weekend as the lone duck in a shooting gallery.
“It seems like they’re on a slow-burning fuse,” bantam coach Dan Wilson said Saturday after highlighting the team’s solid third-period effort after falling behind 5-0 in the first 33 minutes. “We keep trying to stress to them they need to have that aggressiveness 24/7.”
Certainly, the bantams have shown flashes of competitiveness — they did so again Sunday against Comox over the final 35 minutes after the visitors rolled to a 7-1 lead before the midgame ice-cleaning.
But the final weekend of the regular season highlighted just how miscast the young team was this season. After breezing through their exhibition and tiering schedule with a perfect 6-0 record, the Tier 3 Eagles were bumped up a level to play the regular season in a Division 2 made up mostly of larger, Tier 2 programs.
The Eagles roster is made up in large part of skaters who were playing either at the peewee level or in house hockey a season ago. Dustin, who added an assist to his goal Sunday, only joined the team full-time following Christmas break after serving as an affiliated player through Port McNeill Minor Hockey earlier this season.
And two of the veterans of last season’s run to the Tier 3 provincial championships have been slowed by injury as the team slipped to the bottom of the league standings.
Instead of lifting the bantams to the level of the competition, the placement in Division 2 has resulted in a series of beatings that seems to have sapped their confidence.
Along the way, Wilson and his staff have juggled lineups and systems in an effort to find something to reverse the team’s direction. Nearly every blueliner has taken a turn on a forward line, while early season mainstays at centre and wing have found themselves playing defence at some point.
After a weekend off while the VIHL sets its playoff schedule, the Eagles will “drop” back to Tier 3 for the playoffs, which begin the following week. But Wilson points out that will not translate into easy opponents. One of those Tier 3 teams, Powell River, posted a 1-0 win over the bantams in Port Alice the weekend before last and is leading the same Division II in which the Eagles have taken their lumps.
“There will be no big adjustment,” Wilson said. “It’s not like we’re dropping down to play lackluster teams. We’ve just got to get into practice and see if we can get some kind of spark.
“We’ll just try to keep them focused and then see if we get Jekyll or Hyde.”