SURREY — Scouts and average-Joe hockey fans will see some of the country’s best Junior A players in action here next Tuesday evening (Jan. 26).
The 2016 CJHL Prospects Game will be played at South Surrey Arena that night, and the host Surrey Eagles are eager to showcase their Olympic-sized ice.
The East and West teams are loaded with good teenage players from nine leagues across Canada.
“We have some super high-end kids coming who have a real opportunity to be drafted in the first round, never mind just drafted to the NHL,” said Blaine Neufeld, the Eagles’ coach and director of hockey operations.
“We’re honoured to host the game.”
Surrey-raised Jeffery Stewart (PICTURED), a six-foot-three forward with the Eagles, will dress for the West squad, which includes nine players from the BCHL, nine from the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL), and one each from leagues in Manitoba (MJHL) and Saskatchewan (SJHL).
“It’s really exciting to see one of our own be invited to play in the game, and rightfully so,” Neufeld said. “Jeff has been having an excellent year.”
So far this season, Stewart’s biggest game was the six-point outing he had in Merritt in November. In 27 games played, the 17-year-old has tallied six goals and 14 assists.
“Jeff is one of those boys who is local here, played (Semiahmoo) minor hockey, gone through the Valley West Hawks (of the BC Major Midget League), come up through our training program and sure enough, he’s playing on our team,” Neufeld explained.
“He’s just one of those kids who gets better every year, and I dedicate that to his work ethic and determination to get better, along with his attitude. He’s just one of the good kids you always want to go to bat for, do things for.… He always has a smile on his face and loves being at the rink, and you won’t find too many people who wouldn’t want to see a guy like Jeff succeed.”
Stewart is among the younger players the Eagles have on its 2015-16 roster. The team, celebrating its 25th-anniversary season, sits at the bottom of the BCHL’s Mainland division with a 6-33 record.
“We’re a young team, probably a full year younger than any of the others, so we understand it’s a process of rebuilding our group, and we’re in the middle of that,” Neufeld said. “We think we have probably 18 returning players for next year, so we feel we’ll have a very strong team going forward. The boys are figuring out what it takes to win at this level. We figure the hard work will pay off for us as a team over the next few weeks here.”
The Eagles hit the road for three games this weekend, in Nanaimo, Alberni Valley and Powell River, before the CJHL showcase game is played at South Surrey Arena.
Scouts from across the hockey world, including the NHL, NCAA, CHL and Canadian universities and colleges, will be at the game. Two nights later, on Thursday, Jan. 28, many of those same scouts will attend the 2016 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Vancouver.
In Surrey, the guest coaches will be former Canucks players Orland Kurtenbach and Darcy Rota.
Game tickets ($10) can be purchased via the Eagles’ box office, 604-531-GOAL (4625), and the team’s website, Surreyeagles.ca/2016-cjhl-prospects-game.
The team that wins the CJHL Prospects Game is awarded the President’s Cup. Since its inception in 2005, Team West has a slight edge with six wins, while Team East has won the cup four times.
Last year’s winner, Team West, won a “highly spirited and very competitive contest in dramatic fashion” in overtime in Oakville, Ontario, according to CJHL officials.