Through four days of scrimmages and practice drills, and a pair of exhibition games last weekend, new Surrey Eagles coach Blaine Neufeld likes what he sees from his team.
The Eagles held training camp this week, and are set this weekend – Friday and Saturday – to play a home-and-home exhibition series against the Chillwack Chiefs.
“Things have been really good. It’s been a lot of fun to see the boys grow, even just over the first four days,” Neufeld told Peace Arch News Friday morning, prior to his team heading east to Chilliawack for their first preseason contest.
While Neufeld said it was still too soon to predict exactly how his roster would shake down by puck drop on opening night, he said the club’s veterans seemed ready to go.
“The returning guys really stood out, of course, but there were some surprises, too,” Neufeld said.
One such pleasant surprise was the play of new acquisition Latrell Charleson, a hulking 19-year-old blue-liner who Neufeld says “has all the tools you’d want in a defenceman.”
Charleson, a Surrey native, played last year for the Battleford North Stars of the Saskatchewan Junior ‘A’ Hockey League, tallying 27 points in 50 games.
Heading the other way in the swap was Brown University-bound Phil Johansson, who was one of the Eagles’ top defencemen last year.
Neufeld thinks Charleson, who is listed at six-foot-four and 220 pounds, will fit seamlessly into the team’s defence core.
“We got to know him through some other guys on the team who’d played with him before. We watched a lot of video on him and really like him,” the coach said.
“But now I’ve seen him play in person, and he’s just such an intimidating force out there. He’s got an excellent shot, too.”
Early returns on some of the team’s young forwards – all still vying for a spot on the team – were also good, Neufeld said, specifically mentioning the play of Ty Westgard, Darius Davidson and Liam Fordy.
All three are from the Semiahmoo Peninsula. Westgard and Davidson played a few games with Surrey last season,while Fordy – who played last year for the junior ‘B’ Delta Ice Hawks – was signed in June.
“All the guys are really fitting in well. I’m excited to see how things go now that we’ve started playing against other teams (in the preseason),” Neufeld said.
Between the pipes, two new goaltenders will be vying for the starting job, as last year’s sole returning netminder, Bo Didur, was traded last week to the Langley Rivermen.
Daniel Urbani, an off-season acquisition from the Alberta Junior League’s Brooks Bandits, and 19-year-old prep school goalie Christian Short are likely to be on the team’s roster, but the starting job is up for grabs.
“It’s an open competition,” Neufeld said.