Surrey Eagles lose ground in playoff push

Seven games left in BC Hockey League regular season as Eagles try to sneak into final postseason position.

The Surrey Eagles suffered a setback last week in their late-season quest for one of the BC Hockey League’s final playoff berths.

Not only did the South Surrey-based squad fail to pick up points in any of its three games last week – the team scored a single goal – but the teams they are chasing did, further distancing themselves from the Birds as the regular season winds down.

The Eagles lost all three of their games last week, beginning with a 9-0 loss to their division-rival Prince George Spruce Kings on home ice Feb. 2.

From there, the route to playoff contention didn’t get any easier, as the Eagles travelled to Washington for two games against the league-leading Wenatchee Wild. In the first matchup – last Friday in front of more than 3,600 fans at Wenatchee’s Town Toyota Center – the Wild shutout the Eagles 6-0, and the result was much the same for the visitors a day later, losing 9-1.

Captain Jordan Robert finally got the Eagles on the scoreboard in the third period – the goal was the New York native’s ninth of the season – which ended an offensive dry spell for the team that lasted more than eight periods.

Prior to the tally – which came as the team already trailed 6-0 – the last Surrey goal was scored by Paul McAvoy late in the third period of the team’s Jan. 29 win over the Nanaimo Clippers.

The high-scoring Wild, who’ve scored more goals than any other BCHL team – the second-place team is more than 30 goals shy of the Washington State snipers – had no trouble scoring, led by A.J. Vanderbeck, who potted a hat trick to give him 35 goals on the year, which is second-best in the league behind teammate Charlie Combs’ 45.

Prior to hitting the ice for last week’s three-game slate, the Eagles still, mathematically speaking, had two paths to a playoff spot, though one was something of a longshot.

First, they could catch the Prince George Spruce Kings for the fourth and final Mainland Division post-season spot or, more likely, could overtake the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in points, thus crossing over to earn a berth in the Interior Division playoff rounds.

Surrey was 11 points back of Prince George early last week, and with the two teams set to play each other three more times, Eagles’ head coach Blaine Neufeld wasn’t ruling out a late-season run, telling Peace Arch News “if we take care of those games, we’re only a few points back of them.”

However, Surrey’s three losses, coupled with two Spruce Kings’ victories – including one over the Eagles – has closed that down for Neufeld’s crew.

The Eagles have seven games left in the regular season, and they are now 15 points back of Prince George; even if they went undefeated the rest of the way and the Kings failed to pick up a single point, they would still be one point behind.

Surrey still has a shot at catching Salmon Arm, however, though the Silverbacks did extend their lead by a single point last week.

They’re now seven points up on the Eagles, and have eight games remaining, compared to Surrey’s seven.

Like the Eagles, the struggling Okanagan club failed to win a game last week, but they did earn one point courtesy of a 1-1 tie against the Trail Smoke Eaters.

Last week, Neufeld said he wasn’t worrying after various playoff scenarios, instead choosing to only worry about “the game at hand.”

“There’s a belief that we can rattle off some wins here,” he said.

If they are to pull off the late-season comeback, the Eagles will have to start this week at South Surrey Arena.

Surrey has the luxury of four straight home contests, beginning last night (Thursday) against the Langley Rivermen; the game was played after PAN’s press deadline.

On Saturday night and again Sunday afternoon, Surrey will host the Spruce Kings to wrap up the weekend schedule.

Salmon Arm, meanwhile, heads out on the road for two tough games on Vancouver Island, against the Cowichan Valley Capitals and Island-Division leading Victoria Grizzlies, who’ve lost just 10 games all season.

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