The Tier 3 Bantam Championships continued in style last night at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena in Port Hardy.
The North Island Bantam Eagles took to the ice after opening ceremony at 7:30 p.m. against the Dawson Creek KFC Canucks. It was the Eagles second game of the day, and this one was a wild affair right from the start.
The Canucks got out to an early lead thanks to a goal at 18:42, and then they kept the pressure up by scoring once again at 10:53 to make it 2-0.
With the hometown crowd cheering loudly, the Eagles found their confidence and started to apply pressure in the Canucks’ zone.
It was then that everything changed. Klatt dug the puck out of the corner and passed it out front to Kale Hunt, who buried it top shelf at 5:00 to bring the Eagles within one of tying the game.
Less than three minutes later, Verbrugge skated in and roofed the puck to make it 2-2 as the entire building exploded in “Lets go Eagles!” chants.
The Canucks dug in their heels at that point and they managed to score again with 1:18 left to regain the lead before the first period ended.
After the ice clean, the Eagles came out of the dressing room ready to go. Tye Morash banged in the garbage at 16:58 to tie things back up, and that was the way it stayed for the rest of the period, with both goaltenders playing their hearts out making numerous saves to keep the score deadlocked 3-3.
The Canucks started to really open up in the third, converting early on at 15:50, but they kept getting into penalty trouble which ended up costing them dearly.
The Eagles would score twice on the powerplay thanks to Tyler Roper wristing a hard shot home at 13:34, and then Verbrugge picking up his second goal of the game from the side of the net at 12:50 to give them their first lead of the game.
The Canucks started to get desperate, and they ended up getting a fast break on the penalty kill, skating in and firing the puck past Eagles’ goaltender Griffin Handley to tie things back up.
As time wound down, Eagles’ forward Tristan Mardell had one last shot at scoring from the slot, but the Canucks’ goaltender stood his ground until the final buzzer sounded.
Final score, a 5-5 tie.
After the game, head coach Ryan Handley said he thought the Eagles “showed real heart and determination to get back in the game.”
Handley added it could have been easy for the Eagles to fold after finding themselves down early, “but this team fed off that crowd. To hear the chants and support really gave them a boost. That’s a big, strong fast team and they were fresh as we had played earlier in a battle against Kelowna. Big time players stepped up in big time moments, and we now control our own destiny. I’m very proud of their work ethic and they are really stepping up at the right time.”
He noted he has never seen the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena packed with more people than it was Sunday night, and “to hear those former Eagles with the ‘Go Eagles Go’ chants was an unreal experience everytime Griff made a big save or we had a big hit. Some guys really elevated their games – Cole, Mannie, Kai, Roper, William and Kale had strong games. It was a pretty special night and something I’ll never forget.”
The Eagles are playing in Pool B and they have their third game Monday night against Whistler and fourth Tuesday night against Cranbrook.
The finals of the Championships is held Wednesday, March 20.