The Alberni Valley Bulldogs kicked in the door to the Chilton Regional Arena and ran wild over the North Island Midget Eagles.
With the midway point of the season just ending, the Eagles and the Bulldogs were sitting tied for first place in VIAHA’s Tier 3 minor rep hockey division with the league banner on the line.
A two-game series showdown was scheduled for Jan. 4-5 in Port McNeill to see just who would come out on top and claim the spot as the premier team in the league.
The first game of the series kicked off at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday evening, and right from the first drop of the puck it was a hard-hitting, physical affair.
The Eagles came out a bit flat footed offensively and they paid the price by allowing a ton of shots on net, but goaltender Griffin Handley stood tall between the pipes and managed to keep the puck out of the net for the entire first period.
With both teams wanting to win at all costs, neither of them were willing to concede the first goal until early in the second period, when Bulldogs forward Holden Fraser managed to convert off a screened point shot at 16:27, assists on the play going to Chantz Nicklin and Blake Moore.
The Bulldogs would then find the twine twice more in the second period at 10:54 and 9:33 thanks to Carson Steel (assist on the first goal going to Nicklin) to make it 3-0 going into the third period.
The Eagles knew they were down and had to respond. They dug down deep and finally broke through on a power play when Tyler Roper got the feed from Mannie Browne and fired it home top shelf from the slot.
Roughly seven minutes later, Braden Walkus would convert on another power play for the Eagles from almost the exact same spot as Roper, assist on the play going to Luke Gage.
With time winding down, the Eagles tried their hardest to jam home the game-tying goal, but Bulldogs’ goaltender Austin Kuc stood on his head and turned away every shot, showing off some serious skills between the pipes.
As the final buzzer went, the Bulldogs waved goodbye to Eagles’ captain Ryan Patterson as he skated by and then piled together for a group cheer after a very strong performance to open the series.
After the game, Eagles’ head coach Ryan Handley noted the team “came out flat, couldn’t get any zone time and looked like we were waiting for things to happen instead of making them happen.”
He added that the Eagles would have to come back the next day with “a better and more complete effort.”
The rematch on Sunday was held bright and early at 10:00 a.m., and this time the Eagles came out with more jump in their skates, with Joey Grant banging in a beauty of a goal from the side of the net at 11:17, assisted by Koen Sharpe.
The Bulldogs would respond with back to back goals near the end of the first period (courtesy of Steel and Jack McKean, with the assist on the second goal going to David Porter) to take a 2-1 lead going into the second.
The Eagles came out of the break ready to go, and around five minutes later, Grant would convert off a quick release from near the side of the net to tie the game up (assist going to Patterson).
After that, Grant would notch the natural hat trick by firing another puck from close to the circle, sending it flying past Bulldogs’ goaltender Quinton George to take the lead 3-2.
Now finding themselves down for the first time in the series, the Bulldogs showed some real grit and determination by rallying late in the second period with a game-tying goal from Nicklin.
From there, the Eagles collapsed and the Bulldogs took over.
Colton Scott and Nicklin would both fire the puck past Eagles’ goaltender Avary Miller in the third period, and then a brief brawl broke out at the Bulldog’s end of the ice before the game finally came to an end 5-3.
Handley noted he thought the Eagles played pretty well to start the game, “and again our goalie managed to keep us in it early. Where we seem to not understand how to cope is the chirping and emotional side of the game — I’m getting frustrated because we talk about it every pregame, ice clean and post game, and yet we still don’t have some buying in to the concept.”
While there’s definitely no love lost between the two teams, Handley noted that’s what makes the rivalry what it is – a true grudge match every single time they meet on the ice. “We let a team that is not better than us basically have the division and that’s frustrating.”