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Surrey Eagles ‘cautiously optimistic’ as start of new BCHL season looms

Team will return a handful of key veterans, including leading scorer and captain
Surrey Eagles goalie Eli Pulver makes a save against Nanaimo during the BCHL playoffs last spring. Pulver returns to the team this season and will be expected to carry the load in net. (Garrett James photo)

The Surrey Eagles’ off-season has been nothing if not eventful.

The team got new owners – Ron and T.J. Brar – as well many new staff members, a renovated dressing room and an influx of new players, as the usual junior-hockey roster turnover took its course.

On the ice, the team rolled through its pre-season schedule undefeated, and for good measure, they even got an ultra-rare goal from their goalie – netminder Michael Sochan fired a shot from beside his own goal into the empty net of the Langley Rivermen in an exhibition tilt on the weekend.

So, yes, there’s been a lot going on.

But now, the team will hit the ice for real, as the BC Hockey League team gets set to open the regular season this Friday (Sept. 23) at home against the Wenatchee Wild. It’s their only game of the weekend – they’ll wait until Sept. 30 for Game 2 – a home date against the Chilliwack Chiefs.

“Hopefully we can get off to a better start. Last year, we struggled at the start of the season and were kind of chasing our tails the rest of the year,” said Eagles head coach/associate general manager Cam Keith.

Last year’s team finished sixth in the Coastal Conference with a win-loss record of 28-26, and were swept in four straight games by the Nanaimo Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.

This year, the team will return a handful of key players from last year’s team, including leading scorer and alternate captain Jake Bongo, defencemen Brody Gagno – who will wear the captain’s ‘C’ this season – and Ty Brassington are back, as are key forwards Cole Galata and Jacob Bonkowski.

“Getting Jake back is big for us,” Keith said. “And Brody, he was a really important pickup for us last season, but then he had shoulder surgery and we lost him at the end of the season and for the playoffs, but with those two guys coming back, as well as a guy like (Galata), we have a good group of older guys, and I think they’ll do a better job of helping the younger kids than maybe what we had last year.”

Last year’s backup goalie, Eli Pulver – who played 21 games to Max Prazma’s 36 – returns as the team’s No. 1 netminder.

Among the team’s losses are Prazma, who graduated out of the junior ranks, and young forward Grayden Slipec, who was one of the BCHL’s rising stars – he scored 18 goals in 54 games as a 16-year-old last season – has left for the United States Hockey League’s Chicago Steel.

Newcomers included Ewen Rennie – a Semiahmoo Peninsula product who spent last year with the junior ‘B’ White Rock Whalers – and 16-year-old blue-liner Rylan Bonkowski, the younger brother of Jacob. As well, defenceman Ross Roloson – the son of former NHL goaltender Dwayne Roloson – has joined the team, among others.

“(Rylan Bonkowski) is projected as one of the best 16-year-olds in the province,” said Keith.

“And Roloson, we’re really excited about him.”

The strength of this season’s team, Keith said, is the defence, and with only four 20-year-olds on the roster out of a possible six to start the season, there’s room to add some veteran help if any becomes available.

“There’s a lot of positive energy with all the new additions (to the roster), with the (renovated) locker room, with the new investment and enthusiasm from T.J. and Ron,” Keith said.

“We’re cautiously optimistic, but we feel like we’ll have a chance to compete for the Mainland Division title.”

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