The Surrey Eagles wasted little time making an impression on the BC Hockey League playoffs last weekend, in their first post-season appearance in four years.
The South Surrey squad won their first two games – on the road, no less – of their first-round, best-of-seven series against the rival Langley Rivermen to take a commanding 2-0 series lead back to South Surrey Arena, where Game 3 is slated for Monday night, and Game 4 Tuesday.
On Friday, the Birds edged Langley 3-2, and Saturday won 5-3.
Langley’s George Preston Recreation Centre has not been a friendly building to visitors this season – the Rivermen had a record of 19-7-2-1 (win-loss-overtime loss-tie) on home ice during the regular season. The Eagles – who were worse on the road than at home this season, and won just eight of 29 games away from South Surrey Arena – won once and tied in four games in Langley during the regular season.
“I thought both games were tight-checking, fast-paced games,” Eagles head coach Brandon West said Monday, prior to Game 3.
“Any time you can win on the road, it’s a morale-booster, but winning any game in the playoffs is tough. We just need to keep improving, but it was a good weekend of playoff hockey.”
Considering it was the first playoff game for the Eagles since 2014 – and the first for most of the players – having a strong start to the series was important, said Ty Westgard, who was named first star in Friday’s victory.
“That’s huge. Coming into this game short bodies (due to injury)… getting that first one was huge,” he said.
“Get the nerves out and go to work.”
Both wins last weekend came on the strength of excellent second-period performances from the Eagles. In the series opener, all three of the team’s goals came in the middle stanza, and in Game 2, three of five goals were scored in the second.
On Friday, neither team scored in the opening 20 minutes, which was a tight-checking, evenly played period that saw each team fire eight shots on net.
In the second, Langley opened the scoreless deadlock when Trevor St. Jean popped in a goal behind Eagles goalie Mario Cavaliere, but the lead was short-lived as Desi Burgart, on a five-on-three power play, knotted the game at 1-1 just five minutes later.
Connor Sundquist made it 2-1 Surrey less than three minutes later, and the cushion was extended to two goals before the second intermission, when Westgard potted a shorthanded marker on a breakaway.
Westgard’s unassisted tally turned out to be the winner, as Langley got a second goal late in the third from Alec Capstick.
Westgard figured prominently into the scoring Saturday night as well, scoring twice more – the team’s first and last goals of the game – while also adding an assist. Westgard’s linemate, John Wesley, also had a goal and an assist.
Matthew Campese and Chase Danol had the other two goals for the Eagles, both in the second period.
“Everybody in our lineup is contributing right now, whether its on the scoresheet or in other ways,” West said.
“Everybody stepped up… it was a complete team effort.”
The game was a back-and-forth affair until late in the second period when Campese and Danol scored within six minutes of each other. Prior to that, the teams had traded opportunities to turn on the red light. After Westgard opening the scoring on the power play, Langley responded with a goal from Ethan Leyh, and in the second, just 21 seconds after Wesley restored Surrey’s lead on a tip-in goal from in front of the net, Rivermen’s Connor Marshall tied the game 2-2 when he threw the puck towards the goal and had it deflect past Cavaliere.
For his part, Cavaliere – who was acquired at the junior-hockey trade deadline in order to provide some veteran stability in net – was solid between the pipes for the visitors. He earned the wins in both games, stopping 21 and 29 shots, respectively.