Article by Sam Laskaris / Photos by Chris Archer
A late-season addition to their roster paid dividends for the Clarington Eagles on Thursday.
Bryce Caruk, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound forward who joined the Eagles in early January, netted a pair of goals to lead his squad to a 4-1 victory over the visiting Lakefield Chiefs.
Caruk, who had toiled for the Ontario Hockey League’s Owen Sound Attack during the 2018-19 campaign, opened the scoring for the Eagles in Thursday’s Provincial Junior Hockey League match staged at the Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex.
Caruk, who is 21, then scored what proved to be the game-winning goal early in the third period.
“It felt good to get the monkey off the back,” said Caruk, who netted his first two goals with the Eagles in what was his third game with the club.
Caruk thought his playing days were over after he had reconstructive surgery on his right wrist in 2020.
But being a hometown boy and knowing several of the current Eagles’ players convinced him to give the sport another shot. So, he joined the Junior C squad for the tail end of the season.
Since he had not played hockey for a year and a half, Caruk admits he’s still trying to get himself into game shape.
“I’m still trying to get my legs back,” he said. “Hopefully by the playoffs I’ll be okay.”
Leyton Aitken added an insurance goal for the Eagles, 49 seconds after Caruk’s game-winner. And then with just three seconds remaining in the game Brady Darrach popped in his ninth goal of the season into an empty-net, while the Chiefs had pulled their netminder in favour of an extra attacker.
The Eagles outshot the Chiefs in each period and by a collective count of 38-25 in the match. Yet members of the Clarington squad could not really feel comfortable until late in the outing since they required three third-period goals to secure the victory.
“I thought we would come out flying and get the goals going early,” Aitken said. “But we had a slow start. The first two periods weren’t our best.”
Aitken believes an inspirational chat during the second intermission from Eagles’ captain Mitch Doyle contributed to the team’s improved performance in the final 20 minutes.
“Doyle got up (in the dressing room) and got us going,” he said. “Doyle was the difference in my opinion.”
Meanwhile, Alex Lepizzera, who made 24 saves, earned his 15th W of the season between the pipes.
With the win, the Eagles improved their record to 20-6-0-2. And more importantly, with the two points it earned, Clarington remained within striking distance of the division-leading Little Britain Merchants, who are one point ahead in the standings with their 21-6-0-1 record.
Both the Eagles and Merchants have four regular season matches left.
The Eagles are right back in action on Friday as they hit the road to square off against the Uxbridge Bruins. That match, at the Uxbridge Arena and Recreation Centre, is scheduled to begin at 7:45 p.m.
The Clarington squad will then return home and prepare for a rare Sunday night match (Feb. 27). The North Kawartha Knights will provide the opposition for that contest, which has an opening faceoff set for 7:20 p.m.
Note: This story was edited on March 4, 2022, to correct information about the junior eligibility for Bryce Caruk.