Last week was a busy one for the Surrey Eagles – on and off the ice.
And while the on-ice results aren’t there for the Birds of late – they lost all three games last week and have now dropped eight straight games – change may be coming.
Prior to last week’s three-game schedule, Eagles’ head coach and director of player personnel Blaine Neufeld was busy reshaping his club’s struggling roster, making a pair of significant trades.
On Thursday, Surrey dealt 20-year-old defenceman Kodi Schwarz – the team’s top offensive blue-liner – to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in exchange for fellow defenceman Brett Stewart, 19; and then swapped 20-year-old captain Kyle Star to the Trail Smoke Eaters for another 20-year-old forward, Kurt Black.
“It’s always tough to trade your captain, but we’re getting two very good players in return,” Neufeld said.
“Kurt brings a little bit more toughness, and a bit more of a 200-foot, all-around game, and with Brett, he’s got a very good defensive game, and that’s an area we needed to improve.”
The two deals come just a week after Surrey picked up another defenceman, 17-year-old Delta native Ryan Jones, after he was a late cut of the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants, and after Neufeld acquired a third goaltender, Forbes Ploszaj, to help fill the void left by the longterm injury to starter Justin LaForest.
“We’ve made a number of moves here now to address some areas we wanted to address.” Neufeld said. “We’ve change the mojo up in the room a little bit, and we’re optimistic that the group we’ve got now can go out there and get it done.
“Our goal is still to get into the playoffs, so we’re going to go out and try to win a bunch of games before Christmas here.”
Unfortunately for Neufeld’s club, the flurry of moves did little to help the team on the ice last week, as the Eagles gave up 10 goals to the Langley Rivermen Thursday on the road, losing 10-4. They then followed that with far more competitive games on home ice, against Salmon Arm and the Vernon Vipers, though they lost 3-2 and 4-3, respectively.
On Thursday, Surrey played with a handful of affiliate players – filling roster spots after the trades made earlier in the day – and fell behind the Rivermen early, losing 4-1 after 20 minutes.
The Langley offensive barrage continued in the final two periods, as the home team scored three times in each period.
Ty Westgard, John Wesley, Paul McAvoy and Jeffrey Stewart scored for the Eagles.
“That was a tough one, but we’d just traded our captain earlier that day, so it was maybe tough for some of the young guys to focus after a big event like that,” Neufeld said.
“But we were much better the next two games. We were competitive for 60 minutes and had a chance to win both of them.”
On Friday against the Silverbacks, the Eagles fell behind early – Salmon Arm led 3-0 midway through the second period – but the home team fought back from there, thanks to a goal from Westgard late in the second, and another from the second-year forward just 38 seconds into the third.
Neither team was able to connect on the power play – Salmon Arm was 0-for-6 and Surrey was 0-for-4 – and offensive chances were at a premium by BCHL standards, with the Surrey only firing 25 shots at the net, and Salmon Arm just 33.
In the team’s third game of the week, Sunday afternoon against Vernon, the Eagles finally got off to a good start and led 2-0 after one period, thanks to goals from Donovan Ott and Brett Stewart, but former Eagle Latrell Charleson – a free agent who only signed with the Vipers last week – made it 2-1 with a power-play tally early in the second period.
Tyler Andrews restored the Eagles’ two-goal cushion shortly thereafter, but a strong third period from the Vipers erased the lead.
Vernon scored three times in an eight-minute span in the final frame, to steal two points.
Charleson, a Surrey native who was one of the Eagles’ better blue-liners last year before an indefinite suspension for making contact with an official ended his season early, added an assist against his former club, and he had three points in his first three games with his new team.
Surrey sits sixth in the BCHL’s Mainland Division, and now sport the league’s worst record, with just four wins in 21 games. They’re still within striking distance of the two teams ahead of them in their division, however, as the Prince George Spruce Kings and Coquitlam have just one and three more wins than them, respectively.
The Birds will have the chance to halt their eight-game losing streak this afternoon, with a 2 p.m. Remembrance Day game against the Chilliwack Chiefs.
The two clubs will renew acquaintances Friday, also at South Surrey Arena, before the Eagles host Prince George on Sunday afternoon.