There isn’t likely a team in the BC Hockey League that could use a break quite as much as the Surrey Eagles.
Since training camp, the team has gone through three head coaches – the first of whom left the team just days before the season was set to begin – five goaltenders and countless affiliate-player call-ups, and they sit at the bottom of the league’s Mainland Division as the Christmas break approaches with a record 8-25-1-2 (win-loss-overtime loss-shootout loss).
“It’s been an up-and-down year, for sure, with injuries and everything else,” said Eagles head coach Linden Saip, who took over the top coaching job less than a month ago after Peter Schaefer was let go.
Schaefer, of course, was pressed into head-coaching duties unexpectedly himself when Brandon West quit in training camp after just one season behind the bench.
“But I think our group is handling it well. We’ve had a lot of injuries, but it’s all about working hard and sticking to our process. We’re slowly getting some (injured) guys back, too – we’ll have some back after the break,” Saip continued.
For the better part of the last two months, Surrey has been beset by injuries and suspensions, and have relied on affiliate players to fill out their lineup. Many times, with no AP players available, they’ve simply played with a short bench.
“This is definitely the worst I’ve seen it, as far as injuries go. It’s been crazy,” Saip said. “But the guys we’ve called up have done very well for us, and we’ve been proud of them. We (were) short again this weekend (so) we just manage with what we have – it’s the best we can do.”
Injury issues aside, the Eagles have been on an upswing of sorts with Saip at the helm. The team has picked up single points after overtime and shootout losses, and Saturday in Prince George defeated the Spruce Kings 2-1 thanks in large part to a 39-save effort from goaltender Hayden Missler. The win game a day after the Birds were on the wrong end of a 2-1 score, also against Prince George.
How about a round of applause for Hayden Missler? 👏
— Surrey Eagles (@SurreyEagles) December 16, 2018
With just one more game before the holiday break – a Friday night home tilt against Prince George again – the Eagles, despite their struggles through the first half of the season, sit just a few wins out of a playoff spot in a league where all but one team qualifies for the postseason.
After this Friday’s game, the team will disperse for a little more than a week, and reconvene for a Jan. 1 evening practice. They’ll return to game against Jan. 4 in Trail against the Smoke Eaters.
“We’ll practice that night to give everybody a bit more time to get back into town, and then we’ll get right back at it,” Saip said.
During the Christmas holidays, members of the team will scatter across North America, with players heading home to among other places, Newfoundland, Quebec, New Jersey, South Dakota and Florida.
Saip said every team is in need of a break this time of year, regardless of how their season has gone to date.
“No matter where you’re at in the season it’s always nice to take a mental break from everything and go home and spend some time with your family and friends,” said Saip, who won’t be travelling over the break as is family lives in the Lower Mainland.
“These guys are still kids, so it’s definitely hard for them to be away from home for this long. I know they’re all definitely looking forward to going home, but we still have (a game) left to go so we have to go out and take care of business.”
With regard to staying in game shape over the holidays, Saip said he wasn’t overly concerned with how his players spend their time off – within reason, of course.
“It’s something we’ll talk about, but when the guys get home they’ll get back to seeing their friends, and there’s a lot of guys whose friends have also been out of town playing, so it’s a bit of reunion. But our guys are smart – they’ll take care of themselves.
“With how hurt we’ve been, there’s nothing wrong with a week of rest. You aren’t going to get that out of shape in a week, so maybe it’s just a case where you put on a couple pounds and then lose them in the first couple days back at practice and then you’re back to normal.”
Before thinking of holiday habits, Saip and his group are instead focusing on Friday’s game.
“The guys will be antsy and excited to get home, but we just have to remind them to stay focused. The guys know how important every game is,” he said.
“It’s always nice going into the break on a high. That’s obviously our goal, and if we can take two of these three games… we’ll be sitting in a good spot going into the break, and feeling good about ourselves here.”
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