Eagles drop two on opening weekend

Head coach optimistic despite team’s offensive struggles

Despite losing both games of a BC Hockey League opening-weekend homestand, the Surrey Eagles remain a confident – and competent – bunch.

So says head coach Blaine Neufeld, who chalked up his team’s losses – 6-3 to the Langley Rivermen Friday night at South Surrey Arena and 3-1 to the Coquitlam Express Sunday afternoon – to early-season jitters and more than a little bad luck around the net.

On Friday, Surrey came out of the gate flat, and trailed their Langley rivals 4-0 after 20 minutes of play, and though they outscored their opposition 3-2 over the final two frames, the first-period hole proved too big to climb out of.

On Sunday, meanwhile, special teams, and a lack of offensive finish in general, proved to be the home team’s undoing. The Eagles scored just once despite 36 shots on Express goaltender Braden Krogfoss, and went 0-for-6 on the power play.

“I thought that we were alright. Our first period (Friday), maybe we were a little bit nervous, and we came out flat – we were a little sluggish out of the gate both games,” said Neufeld. “We would’ve liked the two points, and big picture, when you look at what happened (with last year’s struggles), we are anxious for a win, but I think there is a lot to build off of.”

In Friday’s game, Rivermen forward Ben Butcher – who played 11 games for the Eagles last season before being dealt to Langley – scored the first two goals of the game, and Justin Szeto and Matthew Graham also scored before the first intermission.

Neither team scored in the second period, and Surrey opened the third with two quick goals – Paul McAvoy scored on the power play just 35 seconds into the period, and Darren Hards scored his first BCHL goal just three minutes later.

Surrey’s third goal of the contest also came with the man-advantage, with Darius Davidson – one of just eight players returning from last year’s team – potting his first of the year.

On Sunday, Surrey trailed 2-0 after the first period, with the team’s only goal coming midway through the third, when Gage Mackie beat Krogfoss with a five-hole shot.

Goals were hard to come by in both games, and Neufeld knows his club will need to pick up the offensive slack should they want to get into the win column soon.

“We certainly out chanced them (Sunday), we hit four or five posts, but we need to find ways to score,” he said.

“On the power play, we scored twice but obviously didn’t get any on Friday, and the power play, that’s when you really need to bear down the most.”

While Neufeld admitted that no one player stood out among the rest, he was pleased with the play with import rookie centre Paul McAvoy, who finished the weekend with one goal and, according to the team’s statistics, won 68% of his face-offs.

“He had a very good weekend, and really contributed all over the ice,” the second-year coach said of the six-foot-two Kentucky native.

Neufeld was also pleased was with his team’s defence – a source of concern last season.

New goaltender Justin LaForest started both contests, stopping 35 shots Friday and 39 on Sunday. And though the team still gave up a combined nine goals, Neufeld called the squad’s commitment to defence “night and day” when compared to last season, in which the team allowed more goals-against and shots-on-net than any other team in the league.

The Eagles face a tough test this week in the hunt for their first win – they host the Penticton Vees Friday night at South Surrey Arena.

“We’ve got a tough test, for sure, but we’re not scared of those guys,” Neufeld said.

“If we can start putting a few more pucks in the net, we can win that hockey game.”

In addition to Friday’s home contest against the Vees, Surrey will play its fourth straight home game on Sunday, when they host the visiting Prince George Spruce Kings.

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