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Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart 

The South Island Thunderbirds Major Midget hockey team dropped a pair of decisions to the Vancouver Northeast Chiefs at Bear Mountain Arena over the weekend.

December 19, 2011, Victoria, BC
– There is a saying in sports that goes, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
Nowhere is that sentiment more in evidence than it is in the locker room of the South Island Thunderbirds Major Midget hockey team, who are struggling through a 3-16-4 season, but who on Sunday, considered a 5-3 loss to the second place Vancouver Northeast Chiefs a victory of sorts, after suffering a 13-2 annihilation at the hands of the Chiefs on Saturday.
IMG 2344T-Bird defenceman Austin Singhera drives past Vancouver Chief Connor Burk during Sunday’s action.
The Thunderbird’s play in the BC Hockey Major Midget League, an eleven team league that features two Island teams, with the North Island Silvertips being the other.
The T-Birds are generally comprised of the top midget-aged players (15-17 years in age) from Duncan south to Victoria, drawn from the various minor hockey associations in that region.  They compete for talent however with the many Junior B teams in the area (Kerry Park, Saanich, Victoria, Peninsula and next year, Westshore who will rejoin the VIJHL), plus the Junior A Grizzlies and Cowichan Valley Capitals and as such, often lose older and more mature midget-age players to those teams. 
IMG 2395T-Bird centre Josh Adkins would miss this Sunday breakaway opportunity, but would score in Saturday’s game to remain second in team scoring.
The result is a squad with a great deal of young talent – the current squad has seven first year midget players and just four returning players – but talent that sometimes struggles to compete with mainland teams, especially those in the Vancouver region, that have a much larger population and talent base from which to draw.
IMG 2427T-Bird Captain Cole Glover would score Sunday and leads the team in scoring with 11 goals and 9 assists.
Injuries have also plagued the young T-Birds this season, most notably with defenceman Spencer Loverock out for the year with a broken leg, and as of the weekend games, Garret Stankoven, Dan Welch, Nate Wade and Ben Meek all sidelined indefinitely with concussion related issues.
On Saturday, the second place Chiefs, took extreme advantage of the young, inexperienced and injured T-Birds by thumping them 13-2 at Bear Mountain arena.
The Chiefs feature the league’s top three scorers in Adam Rockwood (54 points), Jace Hennig (48 points) and Jamie Waddington (44 points), all three of whom padded their statistics Saturday by combining for 4 goals (2 each by Hennig and Waddington) and 11 assists (7 by Rockwood alone).
IMG 2241The T-Birds Cole Pickup is an example of some of the fine first year talent on the T-Birds as he sits tied for third in team scoring. Pickup would score in Sunday’s 5-3 loss.
The Chiefs took advantage of T-Bird penalty trouble in the first period to score five goals, added another three in the second and capped it off with a five-goal third period.  T-Bird starter Nic Renyard was chased from the nets after the first period while first year netminder Alec Dillon finished the game.  For the T-Birds, Josh Adkins, with his seventh of the year, and Liam Carradine, with his third, were the goal scorers.
IMG 2456Zack Smith would score for the T-Birds on Sunday in their 5-3 loss to the Vancouver Chiefs.
Asked what he shared with the team following the game in light of the fact that they had to turn around and face the Chiefs again Sunday morning, Assistant Coach Scott Hawthorne said, “I just said that we really need to address the areas that really killed us and that was their power-play. We started the game the way we wanted to, but then got into penalty trouble.  Our penalty kill has to be on their game, especially against that team and five-on-five, we have to address why we are taking the penalties, because their power-play is really what killed us in this game.”
On Sunday, a much more disciplined and energetic T-Bird team played the Chiefs fairly even in the opening period, but found themselves down 1-0 at the break after the Chief’s Nick Hermary broke in alone and put one by T-Bird starter Alec Dillon with 12:31 remaining.
First year T-Bird goaltender Alec Dillon saw the bulk of action in net on the weekend, playing 5 of the 6 periods against the Chiefs after replacing Nic Renyard after the first period Saturday.
The even play continued in the second and the T-Birds would even the score with just over twelve minutes to play as Cole Glover would notch his team leading 11th goal and 20th point of the season.
The Chiefs would regain the lead just under four minutes later on a goal by Liam Pierce, and would add two more on the power-play – Saturday’s nemesis for the T-Birds – before the period was out, to take a 4-1 lead into the second intermission.
Given the outcome of Saturday’s game, it could easily have been expected that the young T-Birds would be a bit demoralized after the second period action and that the Chiefs would run roughshod over them again in the third period.
In fact the complete opposite happened and buoyed by some excellent goaltending by Dillon, who made a spectacular glove save on an early third-period breakaway by the Chief’s Hermary, the T-Birds battled back with goals by Zack Smith and Cole Pickup to pull within one with just over four minutes remaining to play.
IMG 2420T-Bird goaltender Alec Dillon makes an excellent glove save on a breakaway opportunity by the Chief’s Nic Hermary in the third period Sunday.
The T-Birds continued to pressure, pulling their goaltender in the waning moments, however Jace Hennig would seal the 5-3 win with an empty net goal with just 14 seconds to go.
Despite the weekend outcome and the team’s record to date, Hawthorne has been impressed with the play and the development of some of his young players.  “There are a lot of guys here who are getting looks from many of the Junior A clubs, and we have sent a number of guys up for some Junior B games this season [for example Dylan Grant, Dan Welch and Liam Carradine have all played for the Saanich Braves]”
IMG 2414First year T-Bird Nick Guiney has worked his way up to time on the first line and had a pair of assists over the weekend in action against the Chiefs. 
“Another kid we have been pleased with is Nick Guiney who barely made the team out of training camp, but now is climbing up the roster and is spending some time on our top line and has been real good for us.  We also have a number of other 1996 born players who are starting to turn the corner and who we expect will have a good second half.  On the back end, defenceman Sean Buchanan and goaltender Alec Dillon, who stepped in in a tough situation Saturday, have been playing well and I expect these guys to have strong second halves for us.”
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Defenceman Sean Buchanan has been playing well and will be counted on by T-Bird coaches to have a strong second-half for the team.
The Thunderbirds will now enjoy a brief Christmas break but on boxing day will head across the pond to participate in the Richmond International tournament.  Their next league games will be January 7-8, 2012 when they travel to Abbotsford to face the Fraser Valley Bruins. 
The T-Birds stay on the road for the remainder of January and will next play at home on Sunday February 5th, when they take on the North Island Silvertips at Bear Mountain Arena. Game time is 4:00 pm.