For the second straight season, the Surrey Eagles and Langley Rivermen will meet in the opening round of the B.C. Hockey League playoffs.
Last spring, the first-place Eagles dispatched the Rivermen in four games to win their best-of-five first round series to kick off a playoff run that ultimately ended in the semifinal round of the Royal Bank Cup national championship tournament in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.
This time around, the tables are turned. Itâ€™s the Rivermen who sport the best record in the BCHL and host the fourth-place Eagles when playoffs get underway tonight in Langley. This year the series will be a best-of-seven affair with games Tuesday and Wednesday in Langley followed by Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Saturday at South Surrey Arena (7 p.m. start both nights).
Eagles coach Peter Schaefer, an assistant behind the Surrey bench last spring, knows his team will face a tough challenge against Langley.
â€œLangley is obviously the favourites; theyâ€™re the first-place team and weâ€™re fourth, but thatâ€™s over with now,â€ he said.
â€œThe postseason starts now and everybody is back to square one and everybody has a chance. Anything can happen. We just have to worry about our game and what we have to do and play to our strengths.â€
Langley finished the regular season 29 points ahead of Surrey in the BCHL Mainland Division standings. The Rivermen had little trouble handling the Eagles on the ice with six wins in eight outings. Both Langley losses to Surrey came in overtime, the last coming in their final meeting of the regular season on Jan. 19.
But there is hope for the Eagles. Schaefer overhauled his roster at the trade deadline Jan. 10, shipping out veterans in favour of talented youngsters who will be eligible to suit up for Surrey again next season. Since then, the Eagles have been more competitive, at one point embarking on a seven-win, two-loss roll before fading in the final weeks.
Schaefer is under no illusions about his teamâ€™s chances, but said all they can control is the effort they bring to the rink.
â€œWe have to focus on the style of hockey we want to play,â€ he said. â€œTo be honest, if you focus too much on the different styles of the other teams, you wonâ€™t have success because youâ€™re too worried about them. Weâ€™ll have a good game plan and weâ€™ll try and play the way we have for the last part of the season. That will give us the best opportunity for success.â€
The Eagles did get one break go their way before the start of the playoffs. A quirk in the schedule had the Eagles completing their season a week ahead of the rest of the league, giving the Birds an extra week to heal before the games begin in earnest on Tuesday night.
â€œIs it a good thing or bad thing? Iâ€™ll tell you after the series,â€ Schaefer said of the extra down time. â€œWe have some nagging injuries so having an extra weekend off will give us a chance to heal up. Itâ€™s a long year and some guys are banged up. Hopefully, weâ€™ll heal up a bit and be ready for the start of the playoffs.â€