Tristan Mardell of the North Island Eagles tumbles over Nanaimo's Cole Libbus during their Division 3 game at Doug Bondue Arena in Port Alice Saturday

Wild atoms comeback falls short

PORT ALICE-Young Eagles hockey squad unable to recover from slow start against Nanaimo

PORT ALICE—The North Island Eagles atom development hockey team fell short of a win Saturday at Doug Bondue Arena. But after a couple of periods of misery, they at least managed 20 minutes of fun before falling 9-7 to Nanaimo in Division 3 play.

The atoms, missing two top defensemen and playing just their third game in a month, looked sluggish while falling behind 7-2 through the first two periods. Then, in a startling reversal, the Eagles scored three quick goals on their first shift of the third period and twice closed within a goal before Nanaimo hung on to clinch the game with an insurance goal with 3:09 to play.

“We just weren’t moving our feet,” Eagles coach Ryan Handley said of the first two periods. “We were puck-watching.”

Atom development games are played without the ice-cleaning break enjoyed by rep teams at older levels — “We don’t get to come in the locker room and kick garbage cans around,” assistant coach Steve Verbrugge joked.

But that didn’t stop the coaching staff from delivering a “pep” talk between the second and third periods.

“Our coach Ryan went Tortorella on us and we got our momentum back,” forward Tyler Roper said, referring to the incendiary former Vancouver Canucks coach.

Handley himself was more circumspect, but did not refute young Roper’s claim.

“It was kind of quiet on the bench, and coach (Jason) Roper were asking them if they were having any fun,” Handley recalled of the break following the second period. “I came in and told them to look at the scoreboard, then asked if they were having any fun. They said, ‘No.’ So I said, ‘Let’s go have some fun.’”

The next few minutes were a blast. Tyler Roper scored back-to-back goals on his first two trips up the ice following the puck-drop, nine seconds apart. Teammate Ethan Bono added another less than a minute later, and the 7-2 deficit was suddenly down to 7-5.

After a couple of shift changes, Bono was back at it, keeping the puck himself on a 3-on-2 rush and lifting the puck top shelf from the left circle to make it 7-6 at 4:18 of the third.

Nanaimo, which had switched goalies after pushing its lead to 6-2 midway through the game, went back to starter Hayden Landa. It made a difference, slowing the Eagles’ charge and allowing the Clippers to go back ahead 8-6 on a goal with 9:54 to play.

But Bono capped his third-period hat trick with a power-play tally from the low slot to make it 8-7 with 6:31 left to play. But despite carrying the momentum, the Eagles were unable to puncture Landa’s defence the rest of the way, and the Clippers’ Kane Law wrapped up the scoring on his own power-play goal later in the period.

The Eagles were without second-year defensemen Cole Klughart, on vacation with his family, and Skyler Evans, who was visiting his parents and a younger brother born 11 weeks premature in Vancouver just four days earlier.

But Handley thought the long layoff between games had more to do with the atoms’ sluggish start.

“With the schedule we had in December, it’s been hard keeping them in game mode,” he said.

The atoms will have plenty of chances to get back in the groove, and most of them will be on the North Island. Saturday’s game was their first at home since early November, but they’ll finish up the regular season with seven of their last eight league games on the North Island.

That run begins this weekend, as the Eagles host Victoria in Port McNeill for games at 5 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

 

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