Sports Talk with Tyson is back this week with an in-depth look at the North Island Bantam Eagles practice from Thursday night and an interview with head coach Ryan Handley.
Tyson Whitney: What are your thoughts on how the season has played out so far? 9-0 with one game left in the season is a pretty big achievement.
Ryan Handley: Our season has been very successful to this point. In our three tournaments we were able to medal in all three with a gold, silver, and bronze. We started out tiering quite well, looked like a hungry group, and that trickled over into league play. We opted to stay in Tier Three this year and not risk anyone having a bad experience. We could have played up in Tier Two and we were very much on the fence with it, but with provincials at home we opted not to risk anything. There are a couple tough teams in our division with Powell River and Juan De Fuca, so the competition has been pretty good and they deserve to be where they are.
Tyson Whitney: The team clinched the banner last week in Powell River, is this your first banner winning season as an Eagles coach? What about assistant coaches Steve Verbrugge and Glenn Moore?
Ryan Handley: This is my first banner as coach, yes. We came very close two years ago at home in the final game of the season versus Nanaimo Tier Two, but needed a win. We tied late and I had to pull the goalie and we ended up losing a heartbreaker. That team would go on to push Alberni Valley to game three of the finals, so it was still a very successful season. I believe Steve did win one with the Atom Development team, and Glenn is very successful so I’m sure he has a few to his name.
Tyson Whitney: What drives you to give back to the community through minor hockey and baseball? I know both of your sons play, but is there another reason?
Ryan Handley: Obviously both my boys playing rep hockey is a huge reason, but there are many. My dad was a basketball coach and I travelled many a road with him and his teams on buses from town to town and saw the joy it brought him. He is a huge role model for me as far as giving back and coaching goes. I love teaching and being around the kids as they grow and mature. Coaching is very challenging, but at the same time it’s the most rewarding when you see the joy and elation on their faces when they win – and also the disappointment and sadness when they don’t – and being there for them as a mentor is something I will always want to be a part of.
Tyson Whitney: How do you think the game against Juan De Fuca is going to go on Saturday?
Ryan Handley: We will be in tough as we have two of our top forwards out and two of our hardest working defencemen out and Gazz (Garrett Beek) is banged up with a sore knee. They dug down and proved they can beat a tough team in Powell River last weekend, so I don’t expect anything less from them on Saturday. They know a 10-0 season is a big deal, and losing only to then celebrate with the banner would kind of overshadow it a bit.
Tyson Whitney: What made the season so successful? hard work, practices, team spirit? All of the above?
Ryan Handley: This group had unfinished business from two years ago. Sure, we have a few new faces and have lost a couple guys, but they are a close group and really enjoy each other. They have each others backs and check their egos at the door. They work hard and enjoy the game, and that sets them apart from many teams.
Tyson Whitney: Former North Island Bantam Eagles coach Greg Fox told me awhile back the North Island is an area that is known for producing gritty, hard working players. What do you think about the quality of talent up here?
Ryan Handley: It’s the North Island way. We are fighters and go getters and have produced some very good NHLers over the years. I wouldn’t say any of the different areas kids are much different as far as talent, work ethic, or heart goes. They are all gritty, hard nosed workers and that’s why we produce at the NHL level and Junior level. I love the North Island and am proud to call it my home.
Tyson Whitney: What’s it like being an important part of the North Island Eagles? I know you previously coached Port Hardy house league teams as well.
Ryan Handley: One word, honour! To be able to do what I do is a privilege and it’s something I take very seriously. I owe so much to the Eagles’ association for supporting me and giving me the opportunity to do the best job in the world and that’s coach kids. The kids do all the work, we as coaches only give them the tools to apply themselves. They are the ones who deserve all the credit. I coached a couple years of house league before moving to the Eagles in Atom Development.
Tyson Whitney: Last year the Eagles played Tier Two and it was a bit of a tough league play season with a nice run in playoffs afterwards, what did you learn from that?
Ryan Handley: It was a tough year wins wise, but had we not played up I don’t think we would have beat Alberni Valley in playoffs. We then went down and beat a very good Sooke team in the semi’s, a team that many had penciled in for finals. Sometimes success isn’t measured by wins but in a learning capacity. Dealing with adversity better prepares you for tough challenges, not only in sports but in life.
Tyson Whitney: Any thoughts on playoffs coming up? I know you’ve had some injuries and a couple player suspensions.
Ryan Handley: We are excited to get going. We will have some guys back, but Kale Hunt will be sidelined till mid February most likely, and Cole Klughart is away on a family vacation till mid February as well. We stack up nicely against the other teams and right from the start of the year we said we wanted to win our way in, even if we were hosting. I like our chances and the boys will be fired up to get going next weekend.
Tyson Whitney: With a guaranteed entry into provincials that are taking place in your own backyard, what’s the buzz like in the dressing room?
Ryan Handley: I mean it’s the big dance for these kids. You work hard every year to try and get there, and we know first hand how hard it is to get there. We came real close two years ago, and then we made finals last year, but again fell short. To have the championships in your own backyard is huge and the boys are amped up to play. They all know this could very well be their only chance, so they need to soak it all in and have a memorable experience.
Tyson Whitney: Finally, is there anyone in the community that the coaches, team manager, players, want to thank?
Ryan Handley: There are so many people, businesses and supporters it would be hard to name them all. We get tremendous support from our home town fans, and it’s pretty special to be a part of. I would like to send a big shout out to you Tyson for your continued support of all our teams. You do a fantastic job promoting and covering all of our teams and we all thank you. The many volunteers who are working countless hours on the championships, and Cyndy Grant and Jackie Hunt for taking on the co-chairs position for them. Shana Marshall for being my right hand lady all year, she has done an amazing job for us and makes my life very easy. Last but not least, my wife for pretty much giving me up for seven months to the game. Without her support it wouldn’t be possible! Go Eagles Go.