COLUMN: The long, cold road back to success

After two years at the bottom of the BC Hockey League standings, the Surrey Eagles may finally – hopefully – be turning a corner.

After nearly 15 years as a sports reporter, I won’t fathom a guess as to how many hockey games I’ve watched.

And for my own sanity, I’m better off not trying to tally up all the hours I’ve spent in cold arenas, either – from Kamloops to Fort St. John to Peace River to South Surrey.

But what I do remember instead are individual moments.

Like the time I stood, leaning against a wall while waiting for a player to come out of the dressing room, only to realize the hallway was so cold that my jacket had become frozen to the building, like the tongue of a child who dares lick a frosty lamp post.

Or when – while working for my university newspaper – a member of the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers told me he didn’t worry about getting an education because he was going to have a long, successful professional hockey career. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t.)

There have been angry managers who I’ve seen kick over garbage cans; goaltenders who’ve shot pucks at me post-game; wonderful parents who’ve bought me coffee and less-than-wonderful ones who’ve threatened to have me fired. (Spoiler alert: they haven’t… yet).

And there was one coach who, hours after his team’s game had ended, helped me dig my car out of a snowbank after I’d spun out in an empty arena parking lot.

All of which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the Surrey Eagles – a BC Hockey League team with a long, storied history which itself is trying to come in from the cold.

If you’ve been following along, the team has struggled mightily since 2014, winning just 16 games in two seasons. The organization has had its fair share of challenges, both on and off the ice – many of them detailed last spring by team president Chuck Westgard in an interview with PAN – but now, with a new season underway, there is hope, as there is for every team this time of year.

And though the team’s fate this season doesn’t affect me personally, I am hopeful that maybe they’ve started on a journey back to respectability.

Sure, the sample size is small – just one game, which they lost 8-7 – but when you’ve been around the game long enough, you can start to get a sense for when a team might be turning a corner, for better or worse.

Yes, they gave up eight goals in their home-opener, but scoring seven themselves? Last year, it might’ve taken the team two weeks to reach that mark.

Baby steps.

I hope for better things this year not purely for selfish reasons – though it is a lot more fun to cover a winning team – but also because I’d like to see people’s work rewarded.

It’s a tough grind, trying to run a profitable junior-hockey team, especially in the Lower Mainland where people’s entertainment dollars are stretched in many directions, but the team’s staff – from Westgard and head coach Blaine Neufeld to former owner Ronnie Paterson and everyone else in the organization – have tried darn near everything to bring excitement back to South Surrey Arena.

Quibble with the results all you’d like – icing a nearly all-local roster in 2014 didn’t work – but moving home games this year to Thursday nights shows they aren’t afraid to try new things.

And last weekend’s alumni game, which featured former NHL star Scott Gomez, was by all accounts a success.

But while I’m no business major, when it comes to running a successful sports team, I tend to heed the oft-quoted advice of the late Al Davis, the legendary owner of the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders: “Just win, baby.”

It’s been far too long since the Eagles did that on a consistent basis, but for all involved, let’s hope now is the moment they start digging themselves out of the snow.

Nick Greenizan is a reporter at the Peace Arch News.

Just Posted

Surrey Mountie won’t face charges for scooter scuffle

The Surrey-based IIO has decided not to forward the case to Crown counsel for review

High-risk sex offender released into Surrey

Earon Wayne Giles, a Newton “tag-team rapist,” was released from prison Friday and is now living in Surrey

Pedestrian seriously injured in Surrey traffic crash

A 54-year-old man was hit by a car early Thursday evening while crossing Highway 10 at 152nd Street

VIDEO: Nature provides practice space for North Delta musician

Terry Lee has become a fixture over the years playing his cornet in and near the Delta Nature Reserve

UPDATE: Surrey RCMP say body found after fire at Whalley homeless camp

Police say the body was found inside a shed after firefighters extinguished a blaze

B.C.’s fight to regulate bitumen through pipelines to go to Canada’s top court

BC Appeal Court judges found B.C. cannot restrict bitumen flow along Trans Mountain pipeline

Burnaby facility to dispose of 1,500 tonnes of Canada’s trash from Philippines

All 103 containers will be disposed of properly within Canada before the end of the summer

Scheer says it would take Conservatives five years to balance budget

Scheeraccused the Liberal government of spending $79.5 billion of previously unbudgeted funds

Man wants guilty plea revoked in 2012 collision in Abbotsford that killed Chilliwack woman

Michael Larocque was charged in relation to crash that killed Eileen Kleinfelder

Vancouver woman sexually assaulted after man follows her home; suspect at large

Police are looking for an Asian man in his 40s after the incident on Vancouver’s east side.

B.C. man, 30, arrested for driving his parents’ cars while impaired twice in one day

The Vancouver-area man was arrested after officers caught him driving impaired twice in one day

UPDATE: Vancouver man dies after crash between motorcycle, transport truck

Police believe speed was a factor in Thursday collision

Trial slated to start Monday for accused killer of Abbotsford cop

Oscar Arfmann faces first-degree murder for death of Const. John Davidson

New airline regulations bring compensation for tarmac delays, over-bookings

Some of the new regulations will roll out in July, while others are expected for December.

Most Read