North Island goalie Alexis Cairo steers aside a shot by Makenna Fitzgerald of Kamloops during the opening round of the B.C. Female Midget hockey championships at Oceanside Place in Parksville Sunday

Nerves have impact on provincial hockey newcomers

North Island Impact rally after slow start in midget female provincial championships in Parksville

The North Island Impact didn’t get the start they were hoping for in the first round of the B.C. Midget Female Hockey Championships at Oceanside Place Sunday evening.

But their finish gave the players hope for the rest of the week’s action.

Following the opening ceremonies, Kamloops raced out of the locker room with four unanswered goals before the host Impact shook off their nerves and settled into their game.

As it turned out, that was all the scoring for either team as the 4-0 contest wrapped up with two scoreless periods.

“We know we can play with anyone,” Parksville defenseman Alicia O’Connell said. “We just have to start doing that in the first period.”

The eight-team tournament, co-hosted by the Impact and their Victoria-based South Island counterparts, continues through Wednesday with all games at the Howie Meeker Arena.

The Impact fell to 0-2 with a 4-1 loss to North East on Monday night and need a victory over Richmond in Tuesday’s 6:15 p.m. — along with some tiebreaker help — to have a chance at a spot in Wednesday’s semifinals.

The top two teams in Pool A and Pool B will square off in semifinals Wednesday at 8 and 11 a.m. The bronze-medal final starts at 5 p.m., with the puck dropping on the gold-medal game at 8 p.m.

By the end of Sunday’s tourney opener, the Impact had chased away the butterflies they admitted played a factor in the team’s shaky start.

“Nervous, nervous, nervous,” Impact head coach Dave Young said of his squad, which boasts only a few third-year players with any provincial tournament experience.

“After they got their legs under them, we did pretty well. It was a pretty even second and third period, which is what we were looking for.”

North Island’s Alicia O’Connell, right, mixes it up with Zoe Birkett of Kamloops during the opening round of the B.C. Female Midget hockey championships at Oceanside Place in Parksville Sunday, March 19, 2017. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS

Kamloops coach Scott Ferguson said he could relate. Kamloops hosted last year’s midget female provincial championships, and he recognized just what the young Impact players were experiencing in the pomp and ceremony of the big tournament.

“It’s a little distracting, especially with the banquet and being in front of your hometown, so you want to do well,” Ferguson said. “It can be a little unnerving, so we wanted to come out, get on ‘em early and put the pressure on.”

The provincially tested Kamloops team immediately established a dominant forecheck that kept the Impact pinned in their own end for much of the opening 10 minutes of play. The host squad also drew the first two penalties during that stretch as they found themselves a step behind the visitors.

North Island goaltender Alexis Cairo kept her team in the game by keeping it scoreless for the first eight and a half minutes, but Kamloops broke through on a power-play rebound goal by Jamie Mackenzie at 8:34.

Just over two minutes later, Kassidy Neil got loose for a breakway and made it count by lifting a shot over Cairo to make it 2-0.

The Impact seemed to settle in after that, cracking the Kamloops forecheck with their breakout, but Kamloops blunted the North Islanders’ hopes with two quick goals near the end of the period, from captain Makenna Fitzgerald and Cailie Drummond.

Young admitted the fast Kamloops start knocked his players off their game.

“We started to hang our heads a bit,” he said. “They started to clutch the stick a little more, and the nerves didn’t go away because we didn’t get anything back.”

North Island’s Addison Battie has her shot deflected by Jolene Hoover-Nelson of Kamloops during the opening round of the B.C. Female Midget hockey championships at Oceanside Place in Parksville Sunday, March 19, 2017. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS

The game turned dramatically in the second period, when the Impact came out with sudden vigour and Kamloops was left to play catch-up for stretches.

When the North Islanders got their own series of chances on the power play, including one extended run of 5-on-3 play, they threw a frenzied attack that was turned aside by Kamloops netminder Kimberley Davidson.

“We all just kind of talked around (after the first period) and said we’ve got to get back to doing what we do and play our game,” said Dakota Harstad of Parksville. “We started getting a lot more scoring chances; if we could have gone out like that in the first period we could have tied it, or won.”

Even when the teams were 5-on-5, Cairo faced little of the attack she had weathered in the first period, thanks to quick clearing work by her defence.

“They took it to us a little bit in the second and third (periods),” Ferguson admitted.

The third period was a back-and-forth affair, with neither team was able to establish any kind of extended attack in the other’s zone. The Impact, trying to play catch-up, were forced to pressure and it left Cairo exposed to several odd-man rushes, all of which she was able to stonewall to keep the score at 4-0.

“Honestly, it was pretty amazing we could come back,” said Taylyn Squire, who characterized her first provincial tournament game as “nerve-wracking, but exciting. It showed us we can compete with every team here if we bring our all.”

In other games played Sunday, Surrey beat Kootenay 3-1, Richmond topped North East 2-1, and South Island played to a 1-1 draw with Williams Lake.

B.C. Female Midget Hockey Championships

At Meeker Arena

Pool round results

Sunday, March 19

Surrey 3, Kootenay 1

Richmond 2, North East 1

South Island 1, Williams Lake 1

Kamloops 4, North Island 0

Monday, March 20

South Island 4, Surrey 3

Kamloops 4, Richmond 0

Kootenay 1, Williams Lake 0

North East 4, North Island 1

Tuesday, March 21

South Island 6, Kootenay 1

Kamloops 4, North East 1

Surrey vs. Williams Lake, 3:30 p.m.

North Island vs. Richmond, 6:15 p.m.

Wednesday, March 22

Semifinals

8 a.m. – TBA

11 a.m. – TBA

Bronze medal game, 5 p.m.

Gold medal game, 8 p.m.

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