At last, the streak of futility is over for the Surrey Knights.
After two years of losing, frustration and controversy, the Knights can finally flip the page.
“It felt like we had just won the Stanley Cup,” said head coach Spencer McHaffie. “This was our Stanley Cup, I’ve never seen guys on the bench so happy before.”
“After the game, the guys were just going nuts.”
The Knights took an improbable 89-game losing streak with them to MSA Arena in Abbotsford on Friday night. They were just coming off of a better effort in a 5-1 loss to Richmond after previously losing two games by a combined score of 19-2.
Still, McHaffie was talking about keeping his team positive in a chat he had with the Now-Leader two days before the victory.
“Every day in the room we just talk about keeping it positive,” said McHaffie. “We know that negativity isn’t going to get us anywhere.”
Those positive reinforcements finally paid off on the ice.
In the first period at MSA Arena in Abbotsford, Carmine Sorace scored a power play goal to give the Knights a 1-0 lead. They escaped the period with the lead after being outshot 19-6.
After that, it was the Zakery Babin show.
The netminder turned away an onslaught of shots over the final 40 minutes. Takum Sakai’s empty-netter with 20 seconds to go in the game sealed the 2-0 win for the Knights.
— Christina Simpson (@ChrisS768) November 25, 2017
Babin was unsurprisingly named the game’s first star after his team was outshot 49-12 over 60 minutes. Over the last two periods, the shots were 30-6 in favour of Abbotsford.
“Zakery was absolutely unbelievable,” said McHaffie. “He’s been incredible for us this season and he really deserved the win.”
Of all the games they Knights could have won over the last two seasons, they ended up bumping the skid in improbable fashion.
“There are so many games where I thought we could have won,” he said.
I thought about a lot of games where we could have beat teams like Mission or Langley, but for the win to come against a team like Abbotsford was extra special.”
Instead of beating an opponent closer to them in the standings, the Knights registered the historic win against one of the best teams in the PJHL.
They did it away from home and on the second night of back-to-backs, no less.
This is the Knights first win after moving to Surrey before the beginning of the 2015-16 season. Their last win on Nov. 19th, 2015 happened when the team was still referred to as the Langley Knights.
The Knights have experienced a world of hurt after an altercation featuring former head coach and current co-owner John Craighead. They had difficulties recruiting players after the incident and hired former Vancouver Canucks assistant general managers Laurence Gilman and Lorne Henning to help with hockey operations.
Even this year, their roster features 24 players, with 16 of them being rookies.
“It takes time for all of the rookies to gel together,” said McHaffie. “We have a lot of fresh faces in this room but they’ve been working hard to get better on the ice.”
Although most of the team is made up of rookies, there were a few veterans who sat through the winless season in 2016-17.
McHaffie says that one of the guys who was around last year, Shaun Simpson, kept some of the players going during tough times.
“Shaun has been a huge leader for us on the back end. He was a huge motivator for guys throughout everything.”
On Twitter, former Knight Jayden Gill had some inspiring words to say about the current players on the roster.
“Proud to be a Knight. The amount of resilience it takes just to lace it up in the face of constant defeat is a testament to the heart of the boys who play on that team.”
The Knights hope this is a sign of things to come.
“The feeling for us now is that we can win any game,” McHaffie said. “I just told the guys, what’s stopping us now?”
“We want to shoot for the playoffs. We’re six wins back at this point, we just have to show what we’re capable of.”
There was no monkey on the backs of Knights’ players going into that game. That beast was more comparable to a rabid gorilla. Now that they’ve shaken that off, there’s an undeniably positive aura in that locker room.
“It’s a lot different coming to the rink now,” said McHaffie.