PORT McNEILL—Veterans on the coaching staff and on the ice bode for a promising season of hockey for the North Island Eagles program, which opens its 2014-15 season this weekend.
Even better, Tri-Port Minor Hockey’s rep program will field teams in all four competitive divisions once again.
“We might need an exemption for one team,” Eagles head coach Andrew Laming said as tryouts kicked off last week at Chilton Regional Arena. “The peewees are one or two players light. But it looks like the rest of our numbers are OK.”
Tryouts wrap up this evening in Port McNeill, and the first round of tiering games, which are used to place teams into competitive divisions for the Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association regular season, commence this weekend.
The Eagles midgets are scheduled to open play at home this weekend with a 1:45 p.m. game Saturday against Nanaimo and a 10:45 a.m. contest against Comox Valley, both at Chilton Regional Arena.
The Eagles will open the season with a mix of veteran skaters at each level to combine with players moving up a level or entering rep hockey from their house programs.
“There are beginners and experienced kids on all the teams,” Laming said. “The midgets are probably all guys with rep experience, but every other team has a few house players coming into the mix.
“And this is probably the best coaching staff the Eagles have had in several years.”
Ray Bono of Port McNeill and Marty Gage of Port Hardy return to head the atom development and peewee teams, respectively, and both return experienced assistant coaches. Aaron Hinton of Port McNeill steps in as the new midget coach with no prior experience, but he’ll get support from Laming, John Murgatroyd, Doug Grant and recent Eagles grad Eric Kennelly.
Finally, Mike Bell, the last coach to guide an Eagles club to the provincial championships when his 2010-11 team won the Vancouver Island bantam Tier 3 title, returns to lead the current bantams. That team is not only guaranteed a trip to provincials this season — it will host the provincials next March, the first time the championships have been held on the North Island in 14 years.
Unlike their older counterparts, the atom development players won’t compete for a provincial berth or title. Play wraps up with the divisional playoffs on the Island and, while the Eagles atoms are coming off a Division 4 crown from last season, that won’t earn them any points this fall.
“Last year is over; this is a brand-new season,” Bono said. “It’s not about winning championships. It’s about having fun, keeping the kids into it and developing so they enjoy the game and learn while they’re doing it.”