The Vernon Vipers were laughing and singing along to loud country music in their dressing room Wednesday night at Kal Tire Place.
It was a mild celebration considering they had just ambushed the last-place Surrey Eagles 9-0 before 1,450 fans.
Texan Thomas Aldworth pulled the hat trick as the Vipers built up period leads of 6-0 and 9-0 before head coach Mark Ferner played his third and fourth lines most of the final frame. Surrey dropped to 4-24-0-3 (win-loss-tied-overtime loss).
The Eagles, who have 13 rookies after winning the Fred Page Cup two seasons ago, gave up six goals on 18 shots in the first period. The final shots tally was 44-33 Vernon.
Christian Short started in the Surrey net after being on injured reserve for almost seven weeks. The 19-year-old Ontario product, who was on NHL Central Scouting’s radar last year playing prep school in New England, was relieved briefly by 16-year-old Daniel Davidson after Vernon went ahead 3-0 just seven minutes in.
Short played the final 40 minutes, earning a solid shutout in the third period when the shots were even at 12.
The Eagles, who made the return bus trip in the same day, looked decent in the early going but lost energy forward Spencer Meyer at 4:01 after he checked Brandt from behind into the side boards in Vernon’s zone. That left Surrey with 10 forwards, including two 17-year-old affiliates. Meyer, who turns 19 in January, joined Surrey 16 games ago after playing 32 games with three teams in the Western League.
Blaine Neufeld, 27, was promoted from director player personnel to head coach when former NHLer Peter Schaefer stepped down after Chuck Westgard bought out his partners to become sole owner of the Eagles in May. The fallout from the move included Schaefer losing his title as team president.
Neufeld, a former WHL goalie who was a back-up with the 2007 Memorial Cup champion Vancouver Giants, says the Eagles are a fragile bunch who have a lost a number of close games. He didn’t like what he saw in warmup and realized the lengthy bus trip was foreign territory for his group.
“We assess things piece by piece,” said Neufeld, who hails from Winkler, Man. “We’re in a rebuild mode in terms of our culture and everything. Things you stress in that type of situation is attention to detail and preparation, and it wasn’t there today.”
Neufeld said the Eagles are not a team that holds a pity party after losses.
“You can’t expect it (morale) to be all that great. I think our kids do a fairly good job of kind of hitting the re-set button. Nobody’s talking right now after this type of game and it’s not fun to be a part of. There’s a lot of anger and there should be. You don’t want kids to just roll over and allow it to happen.”
Big forward Quinn Lenihan, who netted 14 goals with the Junior B Grandview Steelers last year, said the Eagles are doing their best to be competitive.
“It’s a learning experience for everyone. We’re just trying to make the best of it, improve every week, week by week, game by game, shift by shift, that’s all you can do.”
BLUE LINES: After hosting the Prince George Spruce Kings and Langley Riverman last weekend (after The Leader press deadline), the Eagles are on a one-week Christmas break. They will resume play Sunday at 5 p.m. when they visit the Chilliwack Chiefs. The two teams will play a return match next Tuesday (Dec. 20) at 7:11 p.m. at the South Surrey Arena.