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Farming brothers look to grow Surrey Eagles into pillar of community

Ron and T.J. Brar purchased BC Hockey League team from Chuck Westgard last May
T.J. (left) and Ron Brar purchased the BC Hockey League’s Surrey Eagles from former owner Chuck Westgard last May. (Nick Greenizan photo)

Ron and T.J. Brar have been farmers their entire lives, as was their father before them upon his arrival in Canada in 1966.

They started their now 30-year-old company, Evergreen Herbs, out of their family garage in Surrey, and have seen it blossom into a successful endeavour that now includes farms and facilities not just in their hometown, but in Ontario, too.

All of which is to say that the brothers know how to make things grow.

Now, they face a new challenge as the new owners of the Surrey Eagles – trying to grow the team into a premier organization in the BC Hockey League, while also making it a pillar of the local community.

And while on-ice success is important, it’s the latter aspect – the plan to help improve their city – that quickly becomes the focus of a half-hour conversation inside the Eagles’ newly renovated locker room.

“This is bigger than (hockey). We’re all about community. We were looking for an opportunity not just to have hockey as a focal point, but to create something where kids can use this sport and this team as a lightning rod to become academics, to go on to other things,” said Ron Brar.

“We look at this team as a conduit, that we can use to further (improve) our community.”

As for how competitive sports can have a positive effect on young people, the brothers needn’t look far for proof. Ron’s daughter, Saje, parlayed her skills on the soccer pitch into a scholarship to Yale University, from where she recently graduated.

Now graduated and back on the Semiahmoo Peninsula, she is the Eagles’ new director of operations.

“I know what sports and education does for people, I know with Saje, her life has changed because of it,” Ron said.

“When we see the kids who are coming to our team… if we can send our kids out to get educated, with scholarships, and then they come back into our community, that’s what we want to see.”

Ron’s son, Savek, will also suit up for the Eagles this season after playing most recently at the Delta Hockey Academy. Like his older sister, he, too, is an example of what having a thriving sports community can do for a young person, his dad said.

“My son, when he was four, he was chosen as the ‘seventh man’ to skate with the Surrey Eagles (during warm-up). That moment sparked something for him – after that, he wanted to play hockey, he wanted to get to this level, and ever since then he’s worked his butt off to get there.”

The Brars purchased the team from former owner Chuck Westgard last May, and quickly set to work putting their stamp on the organization.

There has been plenty of turnover in the business, broadcast and hockey operations departments, including former general manager Blaine Neufeld leaving the team. His departure gives head coach and associate GM Cam Keith more responsibilities.

As well, the team’s locker room was renovated, with a new weight room and players lounge added, along with other improvements, which range from painting the Brars’ “four pillars” of success – athletics, academics, community and courage – on the wall of one hallway, to adding historic Eagles photos throughout the facility.

“We’ve put our blood, sweat, tears and money into this building. We want kids to come through and say, ‘We want to play in Surrey,’” T.J. said. “This team is a pillar of this community, and we want to build it back up.”

Keith said the new owners’ enthusiasm was evident immediately, noting that it’s pumped some new life into the building as they prepare for the new BCHL season – the Eagles’ home opener is Sept. 23.

“There’s a lot of positive energy with all the new additions, with the (renovated) locker room,” he said.

Before buying the Eagles, the Brars said they had looked at other opportunities to become more involved in the community, and they also bandied about the idea of buying a different team. However, when they learned of the opportunity to become owners of their hometown team – “We’re born and raised here,” Ron said – they leapt at the chance.

“This is our city, our area, so we wanted to give it a go here,” T.J. said.

As far as their own hockey background, T.J. noted that while they didn’t play organized hockey growing up, they’ve always been fans of the sport.

“We can’t skate, our dad couldn’t skate – he was an immigrant – so all we could do was play ball hockey. We shot the orange hockey ball into the Dairyland milk crate in the basement, that was our game growing up,” T.J. said.

“But we were always cheering on the Canucks, and even before we had kids who played, hockey has always been important to us – we’re Canadian.”

With that in mind, the longtime farmers are both excited try their hand at something new – a challenge that’s far outside the world of agriculture.

“It’s different than buying a plot of land, a patch of dirt,” T.J. said, with Ron noting that “in a weird way” they’ll look to apply the same lessons they’ve learned over the last three decades to their new operation.

“We know what it’s like to plant some seed in the ground, water it, nurture it and watch it grow,” Ron said.

“If we can apply that same science here, and help the community, and help as many young people as possible, that’s what we want to do.”

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