The North Island Midget Eagles were out to prove to everyone who they really are as a team, and that’s exactly what they did.
With two straight losses down island to start preseason tiering off on the wrong foot, the Eagles knew they needed to get back on track with their next two games at home in Port McNeill.
The first home game was against the Kerry Park Islanders on Saturday at the Chilton Regional Arena, and it was quite the ugly affair as the Islanders kept trying to drag the Eagles into the penalty box with them every chance they got.
While the Islanders tried to stifle the Eagles with physical play, it was the Eagles who ended up getting on the scoreboard first thanks to Luke Gage stuffing the puck in from the side of the net at 5:02 of the first period. Assists on the play went to Joey Grant and Braden Walkus.
The Islanders would end up tying the game with a goal early on in the second period, but the Eagles would not be denied. Keenan Saunders got the pass from Grant and skated in on the Islanders’ goaltender, roofing the puck top shelf to make it 2-1 with 12:28 left on the clock.
Into the third period the game would go, and the Islanders would strike first, scoring on Eagles’ goaltender Griffin Handley off a cannon of a slapshot that found its way through his pads.
Less than a minute later, Tristan Mardell got a pass from Saunders and Josh Nielsen and he turned on the afterburners, skating in and firing a bouncing puck past the Islanders’ goaltender to take the lead back 3-2.
Griffin Handley would hang tough from there in the Eagles’ net by stopping a few more shots until the final buzzer sounded, and the Eagles celebrated their first win of the preseason in what turned out to be a rough and tumble penalty-filled game.
Head Coach Ryan Handley said after the game that it “definitely wasn’t pretty at times, but a win is a win and we can take a lot of good things out of that.”
He noted the team’s compete level at grabbing loose pucks was “much better and we didn’t seem afraid to get dirty and play physical in order to make a play. We need to work on our idea of ‘being tough’ and how we react in certain situations. Our back end had strong games — Keenan Saunders had a great game and our workhorses Patty and Wads ate up big minutes. Our goaltending was strong, up front Luke is starting to find his stride, and I thought Sharpie, Zach and KJ (Keenan Jack) had a very good game and it was their tough last shift that lead to our game winner. It’s starting to come around so we are pleased.”
The Eagles were back in action the very next day at the Chilton Regional Arena with a date against the fast-skating Oceanside Generals. This game was markedly different than the last, as the Generals wanted to try and skate with the high-flying Eagles rather than draw penalties like the Islanders.
Once again, Gage opened the scoring in the first period, assisted by Walkus. The Generals would tie things up in the second period off a wraparound that managed to find its way past Eagles’ goaltender Avary Miller, who was making her home game debut as a midget rep player.
The Eagles kept up the offensive pressure in the second period, and it paid off as Zach Noel found the puck in front of the net and fired it home to make it 2-1, with the assist going to first year midget player Matthew Datos.
The Generals would then come storming back in the third on a two-on-one, firing the puck past Miller at 9:40 to tie it up again, but the Eagles refused to break.
Just a minute later, Mardell once again turned on the afterburners and broke through the defence, firing the puck past the Generals’ goaltender to take the lead back. Assists went to Grant and Liem Wadhams.
Miller stood tall from that point on, stopping numerous shots which caused her team to bang their sticks on the ice in celebration at how strong her play was.
The Eagles would cap things off with an insurance goal from Saunders at 3:03, and that was all she wrote as they held on to win 4-2 over a very skilled Oceanside team.
After the game, Miller was awarded first star by her teammates and Griffin Handley snagged the puck as a keepsake for her to remember her first win as an Eagle.
Miller noted it “felt good” to win in her hometown debut, and added the team “worked together” to earn the victory.
Miller was a standout goaltender for four straight years with the all-female Tri-Port Midget Wild house team, and she noted playing midget rep hockey is “definitely rougher, for sure” but that she’s more than ready for the challenge that lays ahead.
Coach Handley was ecstatic after the win against the Generals, stating it was the team’s “most complete effort of the year — we were hungry on loose pucks and had a very good forecheck and backcheck.”
He added the team “blocked shots and took care of our own end first. Avary played her heart out again and it’s pretty nice to have two goalies who are at the top of their games. You can put either one in and have confidence we will win. It was a huge turn around from yesterday, we talked about discipline and finding our identity, and they did a great job of that today.”