The opening of the BC Hockey League season didn’t quite go as planned for the Surrey Eagles last weekend, as the junior ‘A’ squad dropped its first two games of the regular season on home ice.
On Friday night at South Surrey Arena, the Birds lost 4-2 to their division rivals, the Coquitlam Express, and on Saturday, dropped a 6-3 decision to the Wenatchee Wild, who are the defending BCHL champs.
In the season opener against Coquitlam, the visitors wasted little time opening the scoring, as Express forward Joshua Wildauer scored just 12 seconds into the game. The slim, one-goal lead held until early in the second period, when Eagles’ newcomer – and former member of the Express – Eric Linell scored against his former team, with Cody Shiavon and team captain Ty Westgard picking up assists.
A flurry of goals followed before the second intermission, and the 1-1 deadlock lasted less than a minute, however, as Chase Danol – the player that Surrey dealt to Coquitlam in exchange for Linell – scored his first goal with his new club to restore the visiting squad’s one-goal lead.
Four minutes later, Surrey rookie Jason Chu scored his first goal of his BCHL career – with fellow newcomers Michael McCosh and Brayden Shaw picking up assists – before Express defenceman Kabir Gill, a White Rock native and former captain of the Valley West Hawks, potted his first career junior ‘A’ goal, on the power play, to boost his new club’s lead to 3-2.
In the third period, Surrey pulled goalie Seth Eisele in favour of an extra-attacker in an attempt to tie the game, but Christian Sanda scored into the empty cage to seal the win for Coquitlam.
“I’m just happy we got the win today. Scoring my first goal in first game was exciting, but the only important thing to me was getting the win,” Gill said after the Express victory, in an interview posted to the team’s Twitter account.
“But it was really cool – all my family was here today because I live down the street.”
On Saturday, the Eagles squared off against Wenatchee – who, like the Eagles, are adjusting after substantial off-season roster turnover, with a handful of new players.
Westgard – who was named captain last week, replacing recently traded Jordan Robert, who wore the ‘C’ last season – opened the scoring with a one-timer from the side boards, and the Eagles led 1-0 heading int the first intermission.
Things went sideways for Surrey in the middle frame, however, as the two team combined for seven goals – five of them from Wenatchee.
Wild’s Cristophe Tellier scored 5:07 into the period, and Westgard replied with his second of the game just 36 seconds later, depositing the rebound past Wild netminder Austin Park, who had made the original stop on Linell, who had been sprung on a breakaway.
The one-goal cushion was erased less than two minutes later, however, when Ryan Wilson beat Eisele – who played last year in Wenatchee – to tie the game 2-2.
Eagles’ Matteo Pecchia scored his first goal of the season midway through the period to restore the Eagles lead, because the visiting American squad scored three straight goals before the buzzer – two from Christophe Fillion and one from Chad Sasaki.
Murphy Stratton scored the lone goal of the third period – into an empty Surrey net – to pad the lead.
Though they played together as a unit for part of the preseason, Eagles’ head coach Peter Schaefer – who came aboard as an assistant coach late in the summer, and was thrust into the top job with the sudden, late-August departure of former head coach Brandon West – chose to split up three of his top forwards in Westgard, Linell and Chase Stevenson.
Westgard and Linell played together on one line, with Stevenson on another, in an attempt to spread out the offensive talent. Though Schaefer – who could not be reached by Peace Arch News this week – said recently that the plan could change as the season moves forward.
“I’m not sure there is a first and second line,” he said in an interview with team broadcaster Greg Balloch before the team’s season opener. “When you have three great players – there’s only one puck out there… and (now) if you shut down one line, you have another one. And we have a third line that can score, too.
“We’ll see how it goes – we’re open for change. We’re just going to try things.”
Surrey now hits the road for much of the rest of the month. The team takes on the Merritt Centennials Tuesday, and this weekend will head to Chilliwack for a Sunday game against the Chiefs.
The following weekend, the Eagles – along with every other BCHL team – will return to Chilliwack to take part in the league’s annual showcase event. Surrey will play the Penticton Vees Sept. 20 and the Vernon Vipers Sept. 22.
Though he didn’t arrive in South Surrey in time for the team’s season-0pening weekend, defenceman Riley Hayles was acquired from the Salmon Arm Silverbacks for future considerations.
The 20-year-old defenceman, and Delta native, scored eight goals and added 31 assists in 95 career games with the Silverbacks.
“He’s an offensive defenceman, and I think can be a (power-play) guy for us… and can add to the great ‘D’ we have back there,” Schaefer said.
In a subsequent deal, Surrey swapped Robert to the Cowichan Valley Capitals in exchange for future considerations.
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