It definitely wasn’t easy, but when push came to shove the North Island Bantam Eagles showed they were more than ready to return fire under pressure.
The Eagles put their preseason tiering winning streak (5-0) on the line for the last time on Saturday at the Chilton Regional Arena in Port McNeill against the Victoria Admirals, and was it ever a real dogfight between the two evenly-matched teams.
The action kicked off at 2:45 p.m. with both teams looking to find the back of the net early on, but it was the Eagles who struck first at the end of the first period, thanks to power forward Tye Morash stealing the puck, skating around two players, and then firing it past the Admirals’ goaltender Elliott Walker.
The Eagles continued to put serious pressure on the Admirals from there, and it was Kale Hunt who found the back of the net off a rebound with 28 seconds left on the clock to make it 2-0. Assists on the play went to Landon Turgeon and Jack Barrett.
After a quick period break, the Admirals came out determined to get on the scoreboard, and that’s exactly what they did.
Jake Westhaver converted at 18:57, assisted by Shunkichi Yamamoto, and then Yamamoto scored roughly three minutes later, assisted by Alejandro Snead, to tie the game back up.
The Eagles were now stuck on their heels playing defence against a surging Admirals’ team, but they managed to hold them off until the ice clean, mainly thanks to some strong play on the backend from Garrett Beek, Captain William Grant, Christopher Topfer, and Nathan Strang.
After the ice clean, the Eagles came out of the dressing room ready to find their offensive rhythm again, and it was Turgeon who stole the puck, skated in, and scored a highlight reel breakaway goal at 2:13 to take the lead back 3-2.
The Admirals, however, would not go away quietly into the night.
Early on in the third period, Snead would knock the puck past Eagles’ goaltender Logan Lamothe (assisted by Rohan Bandechiha) to once again force a tie.
The Eagles would return the favour less than a minute later, with sniper Zach Spafford jumping all over his own rebound and firing it home to give them the lead right back, but the Admirals’ refused to lay down and quit. Westhaver scored his second goal of the game at 14:26 to make it 4-4 and then Michael Tang found the twine at 8:28 to give them the lead for the first time all game.
With time winding down, the Eagles’ coaching staff called for a sneaky play to fire the puck at the net right off the draw in the Admirals’ zone, and it paid off as Aren Kufaas got the puck from Hunt and blasted it home to tie things back up.
After that, the Eagles simply took over the game.
With less than two minutes on the clock, Grant scored from the slot, assisted by Barrett and Spafford, and Barrett iced the empty netter with 25 seconds left to secure the 7-5 win over a very tough Tier 2 Admirals’ team.
Head coach Glenn Moore said after the game that the win over the Admirals “definitely was not pretty,” pointing out that once the Eagles had secured a 2-0 lead midway through the first period, they chased the game and ran into a bit of penalty trouble.
Moore added that thankfully the ice clean came at the best possible time, because the coaches were able to “let off some steam, and for us as a group to gather ourselves.”
He noted the Admirals are a “pretty good hockey team with an aggressive forecheck and our defence isn’t used to such pressure, but in the end, the good old North Island Eagle ‘no quit’ hockey took over and we were rewarded with a win.”
When asked for his thoughts on posting an undefeated record in preseason tiering, Moore stated that it’s definitely “a good feeling, but that’s just stage one.”