The Surrey Eagles made a flurry of roster moves this week in advance of Tuesday evening’s Canadian Junior ‘A’ Hockey League trade deadline.
The biggest changes come on the team’s blue line, where the BC Hockey League squad traded away a pair of key veterans – Tyler Cooper and Nick Minerva, both of whom were alternate captains – and brought in a former Eagle to help fill the void.
On Tuesday, Surrey acquired defenceman Domenic Masellis, 19, from the Coquitlam Express in exchange for future considerations.
“We were very busy, and we feel really good about the decisions we made, not just for this year and our push for the playoffs, but for the future, too,” said Eagles head coach/GM Blaine Neufeld.
Masellis is a veteran of more than 160 BCHL games, and played 53 games for the Eagles during the 2013/14 season. He also played for the Langley Rivermen and Penticton Vees before joining Coquitlam this season.
In 16 games this year, well-travelled rearguard has one goal and three assists.
Cooper, a Sudbury, Ont. native, was the first player to leave the Eagles’ nest – he was shipped to the Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League’s Ontario-based Central Canada Hockey League’s Hawkesbury Hawks last week to make room on the roster for new acquisition Landon Fuller, also a defenceman.
Minerva, meanwhile, was also sent east, to the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Cobourg Cougars.
The Cougars are set to host this year’s RBC Cup, meaning Minerva will have an opportunity to play for a national junior ‘A’ title this spring.
Both deals saw future considerations coming back to Surrey.
Minerva, a 20-year-old New Jersey native, was the Birds’ top-scoring defenceman this season, with seven goals and 18 assists in 40 games.
The moves to acquire both Masellis and Fuller – who was signed after being released from the WHL earlier this year – signal a desire by Neufeld to shore up the back end with more defensive-minded players.
Both Masellis and Fuller are stay-at-home defencemen, weigh more than 215 pounds and stand six-foot-five and six-foot-three, respectively.
“We want our backend to be guys we trust in our d-zone, and we feel we’ve really upgraded in an area where we needed some help. Nick had a bunch of points, but we’ve got forwards to get points – we need our defenders to defend,” Neufeld said. “We need those six guys back there to be consistent and reliable… with moving out two older guys, it was a case where we worked hard with them, and they should know what you’re asking them to do – minimize mistakes. That just wasn’t changing and needed to make (these) moves for the betterment of our hockey team.”
Surrey’s other move Tuesday was to clear up its logjam in goal by trading former starting netminder Michael Botiz – who was acquired earlier this season from Salmon Arm – to the Mirimachi Timberwolves of the Maritimes Junior Hockey League in exchange for futures.
Had a deal not been made, the Eagles would have had three netminders on the roster for the remainder of the season, with Botiz joining newly acquired Keelan Williams and Daniel Davidson, who has been out of the lineup since early December and whose injury prompted the trade for Williams in the first place.
Davidson is set to return, Neufeld said.
“It was just a decision we had to make before the deadline,” Neufeld said. “Keelan is what we thought he’d be, and he definitely gives us a chance to win every night, as does Daniel.”
Since joining the Eagles, Williams has been the team’s top netminder they’ve had all season, with a 3-2 win-loss record and save-percentage of .910.
Botiz, meanwhile, leaves the Birds after posting a 9-18 record and a save-percentage of .881.
The Eagles started the year with a goaltending tandem of Davidson and Marc Audet, but Audet was replaced by Botiz after struggling in four games at the start of the season.
A handul of former Surrey Eagles, and Surrey residents, were on the move prior to Tuesday’s deadline.
Defenceman Trent Huitema – who played 46 games in Surrey last season and three more this year – was dealt from the Prince George Cougars to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Humboldt Broncos; former Eagles forward Darren Hards signed with the junior ‘B’ Campbell River Storm; Surrey native Trevor Ayre was dealt from the Cowichan Valley Capitals to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in a four-player swap; and former Eagle Austin Anselmo – who has also suited up for Coquitlam and Trail – returns to BC at the junior ‘B’ level, having joined the Creston Valley Thunder Cats of the Kootenay Junior Hockey League from the Northern Ontario circuit’s Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.