North Island Eagles forward Tyler Roper

North Island Eagles forward Tyler Roper

Young atom team learning on the job

Eagles atoms continue to improve in placement play.

PORT McNEILL—The North Island Eagles atom development team is still looking for its first win. But the fledgling hockey club is having a great time with the search.

Three late goals allowed the Powell River Kings to pull away for a 6-2 win over the atoms in Vancouver Island Hockey League placement play at Chilton Regional Arena Saturday.

After falling behind early, the Eagles got goals from Tyler Roper and Ethan Bono to draw within 2-1 and 3-2 before the Kings’ late flurry put it away.

“It’s a work in progress,” Eagles head coach Ray Bono said of the team, heavily populated with first-year players and a new mix of coaches. “But the kids are having fun, we’ve got a great group of coaches, and we’re all just trying to help the kids develop.

“I think it’ll come.”

Only five players are back from last year’s atom development team. The rest are in their first year of competitive play, most of them freshly arrived from the novice ranks.

“It’s quite a transition from house hockey to this level,” said Bono, a first-time head coach who served as an assistant with last year’s peewee team. “They’re all just learning, getting to know each other and their game.”

The team includes players from Alert Bay, Port Alice, Port Hardy and Port McNeill, and the coaching staff is nearly as diverse. Jason Saunders returns as the only assistant coach back from last year. He is joined by fellow Port Hardy assistant Steve Dugas and Port Alice’s Jason Roper.

Doug Grant and Pieter Van Will of Port McNeill have also been helping out, said Bono, who gave a special shout-out to first-year manager Laura Evans.

“There’s not only a learning curve for the kids, but for the coaches and staff as well,” he said. “Laura’s learning on the fly and she’s doing a great job, at the same time she’s the ice scheduling coordinator for the whole North Island.”

Powell River carried a 1-0 lead into the second period Saturday, and extended it to 2-0 in the opening minute of the second. But Keenan Saunders won the ensuing face-off, and Tyler Roper collected the puck, split a pair of defenders at the blue line and skated in to score just eight seconds later to make it 2-1.

That score held up into the third period, when the Kings’ Ethan Taylor rattled a shot off the crossbar and into the net to restore the two-goal lead. Again, the Eagles answered, with Ethan Bono parking himself at the post and jamming home the rebound of Roper’s shot from the slot, making it 3-2 at 5:54.

This time, however, it was Powell River’s turn for a quick turnaround, as the Kings took the next face-off, flooded the zone and got a quick score from Gavin Mastrodonato to go up 4-2. Just 28 seconds later, Caleb Vallance got loose on a breakaway and unleashed a shot from the circle that Eagles goalie Kayden Jones got a piece of, but that managed to slip through and trickle slowly across the goal line for a 5-2 advantage.

The atoms, who opened the tiering round with road losses in Nanaimo and Parksville one week earlier, get their next chance at the win column when they travel this weekend to Port Alberni for the annual Bulldogs Thanksgiving Tournament.