The North Island Atom Eagles came out of the dressing room ready to conquer on home ice.
After winning the Tier 4 league banner with a stunning 10-0-2 record, the Eagles were given the opportunity from VIAHA to host the Tier 4 playoffs at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena in Port Hardy March 7-8, and it turned out to be quite the exciting weekend for minor hockey.
The Eagles had a first round matchup on Saturday against the very tough Comox Valley B Chiefs. The game kicked off at 2:15 p.m. and it was a real nail biter.
The Chiefs managed to get on the scoreboard first at 18:41 of the first period thanks to a great shot from Koen Abbott, but the Eagles came flying back with two goals of their own courtesy of Levi McCart (assisted by captain Axen Peterson) and Caleb Lansdowne to take a 2-1 lead going into the second period.
Neither team was able to find the net in the second, but the Chiefs’ Jonathan MacLean finally scored the equalizer at 9:11 of the third period to tie things up.
Into overtime the game went, and it was Linden Tomasi who came up clutch by scoring with 4:08 left on the clock (assist on the play going to Cameron Sheppe).
With the win over the Chiefs in hand, the Eagles advanced to the playoff final on Sunday against the Victoria Admirals, a team they knew very well as they had been battling against them all season.
The playoff final started bright and early at 10:00 a.m., and once again the visiting team got out to an early lead, with the Admirals’ Preston Proulx scoring top shelf on Eagles goaltender Drake Brooks at 18:18 of the first period (assists going to Colby Berman and Kolton Shears).
Down 1-0 early, that was when the Eagles’ captain turned up the compete level and took over the game. Peterson scored off a beauty of a shot with 3:27 left on the clock, assisted by McCart and Tomasi, and then scored again at 11:37 of the second period (assisted by Sheppe) to give the Eagles a 2-1 lead.
Peterson wasn’t done scoring just yet, as he converted at 12:30 of the third period (assisted by Mattias Charlie and Rylan Turgeon) to complete the rare natural hat trick.
Nehemiah Plunkett managed to knock the puck past Brooks at 9:24, but that was it for the Admirals as the Eagles held on to win 3-2 in what turned out to be a thrilling back-and-forth affair.
The Eagles celebrated with both banners after the game had ended, skating around the ice with them held high in the air as a passionate hometown crowd cheered them on.
Head coach Shay Peterson said he was feeling a bit shellshocked after winning so he kept his post-game speech to the team short and sweet, but did state that playoffs were “the team’s biggest test of the year.”
He noted that after winning the league banner, “we were the guys to beat and every team brought their best against us. I’m super proud of the way this team stuck together and found a way to compete and win both games this weekend.”
Shay added that once celebrations were over and everyone had cleared out of the dressing room, “I told the kids to look around at one another and take in and cherish this moment — they will look back one day and realize how special it truly is. I told them I’ve played hockey my entire life and I’ve never won any kind of banner, and the fact that we started with six kids and threw a team together and became the league and district champs is pretty amazing.”
The North Island Gazette spoke to Peterson, Brooks and Turgeon about how they felt the season had gone for the team.
“It felt great,” said Peterson when asked about what it was like to hold up the two banners. He said he couldn’t pick a favourite moment from the season, stating, “Just everything, getting to play with the team. It was really fun playing with all of them.”
Brooks stated he was really happy they won playoffs and that he was feeling hyper after chugging a gatorade to celebrate. “It felt really good to win, I was literally jumping around,” he said about getting to hold up the banners, adding he felt he played really well all weekend. “I didn’t even know what the banners on the wall were when I was playing in peanuts, and now all of a sudden I’m holding two — it was amazing.”
Turgeon said it felt “really exciting” to win playoffs, and he stated it was “really cool because my brother won two banners with his team on this ice, and now I’ve got two.”
He added his favourite moment was when he looked up at the clock and it said one second. “My eyes lit up — I felt proud and happy because we worked really hard to get to this spot.”