A winless week that included a pair of losses to a division rival has done little to dampen the Surrey Eagles’ morale, nor quelled the BC Hockey League’s push for a playoff berth.
The Eagles – who’ve been hovering on the cusp of a Mainland Division playoff position since reeling off a five-game win streak last month – fell to the division-leading Wenatchee Wild 4-1 Thursday night in Wenatchee and followed up with a 2-0 loss to the same club Saturday, also at the Wild’s home arena.
The Eagles then wrapped up the weekend on home ice with a 5-1 loss to the visiting Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
Eagles head coach Blaine Neufeld brushed off Sunday’s loss to the Alberni, who sit at the bottom of the BCHL’s Island Division standings, as something of an aberration – “It was just a weird off – we got off to a slow start,” he said – but was mostly pleased with his team’s performance in the two games against Wenatchee.
Thursday’s game – played in front of an announced crowd of more than 2,000 fans – was a 1-1 tie through 40 minutes, and the home team only took a lead 6:43 into the third when league-leading scorer Brendan Harris gave the Wild the lead.
From there, the momentum shifted and Wenatchee tacked on two more goals, but Neufeld said despite his team being outshot 44-16, they still had an opportunity to win.
“We played them tough. Both games were tied late, and we played them the way we wanted to play them. We put a couple off the post, and they were able to capitalize. It was just a matter of a chance or two,” he said.
“It was 1-1 late and they scored three late. If it’s us that goes up 2-1, then we probably win 4-1 instead.
“The guys always want to win, but there was a lot of gains made on the weekend.”
Surrey’s lone goal came from Jeff Stewart, with Darius Davidson and Desi Burgart picking up assists.
Goaltender Michael Botiz was tagged with the loss, but made 40 saves.
While the Wild have run roughshod over most of their competition this season – their 23-5-1-0 record (win-loss-overtime loss-tie) is second-best in the entire league – the Eagles have been one of the few teams to give them trouble.
Surrey has beaten Wenatchee once, a 6-1 win at South Surrey Arena on Oct. 20, and also taken them to overtime once, too, before losing 6-5.
“Our think our speed matches their’s, and we’re also capable of putting teams in uncomfortable situations. We thought we’ve done that against them at times,” Neufeld said.
“You need to keep the pace up against them.”
Botiz got the start again Friday, stopping 37 Wenatchee shots, though he was again stuck with the loss as his teammates were unable to solve Wild goalie Garrett Nieto, who was only forced to make 12 saves to earn the shutout.
On Sunday, the Eagles were shorthanded against Alberni Valley, with three key players – Stewart, Burgart and defenceman Cory Babichuk – having left the team to attend a World Junior ‘A’ Challenge tryout camp. All there are vying for a spot on Canada West’s roster, and, should they make the cut, will be away from the Eagles until after the Christmas break.
“We’re missing some bodies… it’s a tough stretch of the season, but it’s a good test for the rest of the guys who are here. They’ll have to step up and find some ways to get some wins,” Neufeld said.
The team will also be without goaltender Daniel Davidson for at least that long, having suffered an ankle injury late last month.
In Davidson’s absence, the team used affiliate player Lukas Shaw as a backup to Botiz, but prior to the Wenatchee trip swung a trade for 20-year-old netminder Keelan Williams, who helped lead the West Kelowna Warriors to an RBC Cup last season.
In exchange for Williams, Surrey sent forward Logan Mostat – the Eagles’ fourth leading scorer – to the Okanagan club, along with future considerations.
Considering the price they paid for the veteran keeper, one might assume Davidson would be out longterm, though Neufeld said they hoped he’d be back by the end of the month.
“We’re still trying to diagnose (the injury) but it doesn’t seem like he’s getting better quite yet, but it was important for us to give Botiz some support, because it’s always tough going with an (affiliate player) for that long,” the coach explained.
“Keelan has a lot of experience – he’s won before – and an opportunity to add a goaltender like that, it’s a good thing to go after.
As for what the team would do with three goalies once Davidson returns, Neufeld said “we’ll worry about that when we get there.”
With the team’s stated goal of making the playoffs, Neufeld added that the trade was made because they can’t let an injury derail that goal.
“We’re in it to win it, and hopefully we can make a few more moves before the (Jan. 10) deadline to give us a few more pieces,” he said.
This week, the Eagles – who sit with an 11-19-2-0 record – will host the Chilliwack Chiefs Thursday at 6:30 p.m., before travelling east for a Saturday rematch, this time in Chilliwack.
On Sunday, Surrey returns to its home rink for a game against the Cowichan Valley Capitals.
Sunday’s tilt – which starts at 4 p.m. – also serves as the team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss game. Fans are encouraged to bring a stuffed toy to the game – or buy one on-site – and then throw it on the ice after the Eagles’ first goal of the game. The bears will then be collected and donated to the Surrey Christmas Bureau.