HOCKEY: On Thursday, one last fight by Surrey Knights for first win of their long, sad season

Junior B team has struggled with injuries, young roster all year

The Surrey Knights in action earlier this season at North Surrey Recreation Centre

SURREY — With the clock ticking toward a winless season for the Surrey Knights, let’s dial it all the way back to the night of Nov. 19, 2015.

Based in Langley at the time, the Knights scored a pair of second-period goals for a 3-2 win over the visiting Abbotsford Pilots. The three stars that evening were all home-team players – Tristan Craighead, Cole Forbes and Ante Mustapic – and the game was a rare moment of celebration for the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL) team that winter.

Sadly, the Knights have gone winless in the regular season ever since, even with the franchise’s move from George Preston Arena to North Surrey Recreation Centre last fall.

The numbers for the 2016-17 season sure aren’t pretty: 43 games played, zero wins, 40 losses and three overtime losses, which gives them three points.

That’s a lot of losing for a franchise that has yet to win a game as the Surrey Knights.

Historically, the Knights’ current losing streak rivals the flightless Mission Pilots of the mid-1980s, a team that went nearly two seasons without a regular-season win.

And so, the green-and-yellow Knights will look for their elusive first win of the current season on Thursday (Feb. 9) at home against Aldergrove Kodiaks. Game time is 7:45 p.m.

Aldergrove won 8-3 the last time the two teams met, on Feb. 1. Trevor Sundher, Avjot Sahota and Aidan Grigg scored for Surrey, which dressed six affiliates for the game.

The following night (Feb. 2) at North Surrey rec, the home team was downed 6-1 by Ridge Meadows Flames, with the lone Surrey goal credited to Kevin Kutasi. Six affiliates also dressed for that game.

Not long into the current season, the Knights began trading and selling key players to rival clubs, leaving behind a young roster and little in the way of battle-tested, PJHL-level talent. Injuries piled up, too.

Before Christmas, coach Paul Whintors was replaced on the bench by twins Scott and Spencer McHaffie, but the losses continued to mount.

“The season is not what we expected, all the way around,” Amar Gill, Knights general manager and minority team owner, told the Now on Tuesday.

“The truth is, players are getting an opportunity with our team, rookies, because of a ton of injuries and changes we’ve made. I’ve had seven key guys, starters, injured at one time. That’s brutal.”

Of note, the Knights’ rostered players pay $5,000 to the team to cover expenses, plus $1,000 in league fees for insurance and medical coverage.

“(The winless season) is on everyone’s mind, of course,” Gill continued, “but I’m proud of the guys who’ve stuck with us. They’ve been close, in double overtime a couple times, and they deserve better. It’s just been one of those years.”

Ray Stonehouse, who attends most games in his duties as league president, says he feels horrible for Knights players.

“I see a great group of young kids who go out there and give their best, night in and night out,” Stonehouse said on Monday. “I’ve seen them go into overtime on three occasions, only to lose those games, and sometimes they haven’t been lucky either.”

“It’s just a bad situation there in Surrey,” Stonehouse added. “The league is not happy with the situation, and it will be addressed in the offseason, that’s all I can tell you at this time.”

The Knights are owned by John Craighead, a one-time NHLer who was handed a six-year suspension from BC Hockey, the governing body of amateur hockey in the province, in January 2016.

Craighead, who was coach and general manager of the Langley Knights at the time, was given the suspension for an incident during a game in September of 2015. Craighead confronted the Mission City Outlaws coach on the visitors’ bench at George Preston while an on-ice brawl was happening; at the time, Craighead said he felt his players were in danger. The on-ice incident sent several Langley players to hospital.

At a hearing in late January, Craighead appealed his six-year suspension, but BC Hockey’s decision was upheld. The matter has been referred back to Hockey Canada, which has a 30-day window for a decision.

tom.zillich@thenownewspaper.com

 

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