Eagles Claw Their Way to Victory in Home Opener

Article by I. Schoonderbeek/Photo by T. Schoonderbeek

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Clarington Eagles started the 2023-24 campaign on a winning note Thursday evening. The Junior ‘C’ squad sent their fans home happy with a 5-4 come from behind victory over the North Kawartha Nights.

It was a back-and-forth affair through most of the game.

Adam Klaas got Clarington on the scoreboard early in the first period, banging home a rebound at the edge of the crease from a Leyton Aitken shot.

Less than a minute later, the Knights took advantage of a defensive zone breakdown which left a player open to rip a shot from the hash marks past Eagles starter Alex Chu.

The Eagles had the benefit of a little “puck luck” to restore their one-goal lead. Defenseman Cole Williamson’s shoot-in attempt hit a stanchion along the glass. The puck took a fortunate deflection into a wide-open net as the Knight’s goalkeeper had skated behind the goal in anticipation of intercepting the dump-in.

The Eagles lead would be short lived. Around the midway point of the first, a perfect breakout pass split the Clarington defense resulting in a Knight’s breakaway goal. North Kawartha would go on to take a 3-2 lead before the period was out when a puck was batted high over Chu in front of the goal.

The Eagles came out for the second looking to get something going. In training camp, Coach Dean Baumhauer had challenged overagers Kolby Poulin and Brayden Roberts to use their speed to force opposing defenses back into their zones. The two wingers did just that, working a quick give and go before finding linemate Owen Manarin with a cross ice pass for a perfect one-time goal to even the score at three.

North Kawartha took advantage of a late second period powerplay to carry a 4-3 lead going into the third.

Eagles captain Mitch Davies banged home a centering pass from Trevor Urquhart five minutes into the third to even the score once again.

The turning point of the game would come two minutes later. Eagles winger Roberts carried the puck through the neutral zone with speed and was caught with an open ice knee by a North Kawartha defender as he crossed the offensive blue line. Big winger Klaas immediately jumped to his fallen teammate’s defense. The result of the ensuing skirmish was a nine-minute Knight’s powerplay much to the shock of the Clarington bench and the home crowd.

What should have been a decided advantage for the visitors seemed to instead spark the home side. Early in the penalty kill, Aitken intercepted a cross ice pass and sent Hayes Bell in alone on a breakaway. Bell’s shot attempt was deflected behind the goal, but he stayed on the puck and centered a pass back out front to the trailing Aitken who deposited the feed behind the sprawling North Kawartha netminder for a 5-4 Clarington lead.

The Knight’s powerplay had difficulty creating any kind of momentum for the remainder of the contest. The Eagles created several more shorthanded scoring opportunities as they efficiently cycled through quick line changes. Key shot blocks from Davies and Williamson in the final minute with the Knights pressing helped seal the Eagles victory.

“We weren’t very sharp tonight,” said Baumhauer after the game. “We talk about compete and effort in the room, and for two periods we weren’t good enough. North Kawartha worked really hard and they’re well coached. It’s good for our group to have a team like that, that doesn’t have nearly as much talent play us that hard early in the season. When you go to the finals two years in a row, we’re going to be a target for teams throughout the league every night.”

“We did have a really good third period,” Dean continued. “I liked Klassy coming in and sticking up for his teammate…I wasn’t a fan of that penalty non-call. The captain got a big goal. On the big penalty kill, not only did we get the game winner, but we also had a ton of blocked shots, and everybody was getting in front of pucks. That gives us a glimpse of how this team can play, and we’re only going to get better. So, not a game we as a coaching staff exactly love, but we’ll take the two points and get ready for tomorrow night.”

New team captain Davies echoed is coach’s take in his post-game comments. “We’ve got a lot of new guys again this year, so it’s going to take awhile for them to learn all the systems. We’re all still learning to play together, and we’ve only had a few practices, so it’ll take a little while to get going. It felt good to kill that big penalty off. Guys on this team aren’t afraid to throw their bodies in front of pucks and sacrifice for each other.

Asked what meant to be donning the C for the Eagles this year, Davies responded “It feels good to have that trust from your coaching staff. It’s a real confidence booster for me, and I’m surrounded by a great group of players.”

The tenacity and edge Davies displays on the ice every night is countered by the calm demeanor of alternate captain Ryan Hall. “We’re definitely two opposite kinds of guys who can complement each other along with Willy (Williamson) in terms of our leadership qualities,” said Hall. “Tonight was good for us. We faced a little adversity, and we battled through it. Any team willing to outwork their opponent in this league is usually going to come out on top. Tonight was a good reminder of that.”

Your Eagles are back in action tonight (Friday) when they travel to Uxbridge to take on the Bruins in the Bear Den. Puck drop is 7:45 p.m.