The Surrey Eagles can score – that much is clear – but the defensive side of the rink is still a work in progress.
With some of the team’s high-scoring alumni watching from the stands – including Scott Gomez, Shane Kuss and Rodney Bowers – the Surrey Eagles did their best to re-create some magic from those mid-’90s glory days, scoring seven goals in a season-opening 8-7 loss to the Coquitlam Express Friday night at South Surrey Arena.
And though they failed to earn a point in front of the home fans, Eagles’ head coach Blaine Neufeld was instead focusing on the positive – and there was plenty to note, he said.
For starters, Surrey outshot their division rivals by a convincing 45-27 margin, and also scored three times on the power-play, while being perfect on the penalty kill.
And even after repeated viewings of the game – Neufeld said he re-watched it twice over the weekend – the third-year head coach can’t find many instances where his team was on their heels for extended periods of time – a rarity when the other team scores eight times.
“It was just a bunch of weird bounces, but it was a good first game in many ways, and we look at it (with) a glass-half-full approach,” Neufeld said. “We outshot them, and we dominated a lot of the game.”
He chalked up many of the Express goals, and other scoring chances, to a bit of over-exuberance on the part of his squad.
“There was probably a bit too much excitement. We saw our defensive core make some decisions – especially in the neutral zone – that we’ve never seen them make before. Going forward, I think you’ll see them calm down a bit, and we won’t see those types of mistakes.”
Offensively, the team was led by second-year Eagle Logan Mostat, who scored twice and added two assists. Through one game, he already has half as many goals as he scored in 19 for the Birds last season.
“I thought Logan, Jeff (Stewart) and Desi (Burgart) really did a good job for us,” Neufeld said.
Neufeld was also impressed with his team’s resiliency, pointing out that three times in the contest they battled back to tie the game – including an early first-period deficit that saw them down 2-0 before reeling off four straight goals before the first intermission.
“I was really impressed. That wasn’t our group last year. Back then, it would’ve been over and done with (after the first two goals,” Neufeld said.
The Eagles’ mettle will be tested further this weekend, when the team leaves for Vancouver Island for a three-games-in-three-days stretch. On Friday, they’ll square off against the Victoria Grizzlies before playing the Nanaimo Clippers Saturday night and the Powell River Kings Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a great opportunity for our guys to travel together early in the season, and it’s a great chance to be a simple, smart hockey team,” Neufeld said.
“On the road, when you aren’t playing in front of parents or girlfriends or anything, you can just play smart and keep it simple, and that’s what we’ll try to do.”
Saturday afternoon’s alumni game – which saw the current squad face off against a team made up of players who played in South Surrey from 1996-98 – ended in a 6-6 draw.
Neufeld called it a “special opportunity” not only for longtime fans of the team, who got the chance to see some familiar faces on the ice, but also for his current players.
“The leaders of that group (from the 1990s) were able to talk to our guys, give them advice – it was great,” Neufeld said.
The alumni members – some of whom hadn’t see each other in nearly two decades – gelled together quickly, upon re-introduction, Neufeld said.
“Some of the guys didn’t even recognize each other at first – 20 years is a long time – but it took them about four seconds before they were telling stories about (their playing days),” Neufeld. “It was really a fantastic, entertaining weekend.”