Last week, a few days before the Canadian junior hockey trade deadline, Surrey Eagles general manager Blaine Neufeld said he liked his team’s young core, and he would only acquire help for a playoff push if it could be done without trading away a key piece from that group.
“We see that we have such a quality group, we want to keep in intact,” he told Peace Arch News at the time.
And so the Jan. 10 deadline came and went with the BC Hockey League team making only two moves – bringing in a new backup netminder, Reece Klassen, while trading away the incumbent, Cal Schell, to make room.
A few hours after the deadline passed, the Eagles went out and showed that their GM was right to have faith in them, winning on the road in Prince George, 4-3 over the division-rival Spruce Kings. A day later, they completed the sweep of their northern foes, winning 4-1.
Prince George’s Rolling Mix Concrete Arena has normally been a tough place for visiting teams to play, but the Eagles have found success there this season. They have a perfect 4-0 win-loss record in the Spruce Kings’ barn, having also sweep a season-opening series there in September.
“To win any game in PG is extremely hard, so I’m a very proud coach right now. I don’t think there’s anything specific as to why we were able to go 4-0 up here this season,” said Eagles head coach Cam Keith.
“We just played really well every game we played here.”
The two recent victories bumped the Birds’ overall record to 17-19-2-4 (win-loss-overtime loss-shootout loss), and while they’re still in fourth in the BCHL’s Mainland Division, they now sit just one point back of the Langley Rivermen, who are in third, and nine back of the second-place Chilliwack Chiefs. Surrey is now seven points up on Prince George, who sit in fifth.
The team’s newest acquisition played a major role in the two victories, too, as Klassen was thrust immediately into the starter’s role due to a groin injury to regular starter Thomas Scarfone. Klassen, 20, had been playing in the Western Hockey League for the Swift Current Broncos, but trades there bumped him from the crease. His junior ‘A’ rights were acquired by Surrey, from the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Fort McMurray Oil Barons, and he joined his new team in time for the weekend.
To make room, Schell – who had ceded the bulk of the goalie starts to Scarfone as the season wore on – was dealt to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Flin Flon Bombers.
Klassen – a Surrey native who has also played for Lethbridge in the WHL – stopped 22 of 25 shots Friday and 27 of 28 on Saturday.
“He was the best player on the ice this weekend,” Keith said of his new netminder.
“Reece is just so calming. Any shots from the points he soaks them up, or kicks them into the corners. There’s not a lot of extra scrambles. He’s extremely composed. He’s a 20-year-old veteran who has played at a very high level of hockey.”
On Friday, the Eagles found themselves in a 1-0 hole after the opening period – Nicholas Poisson scored for the home team just over seven minutes into the game – but Surrey answered back in the second, scoring four goals in a wild 20 minutes than saw the team’s combine for six total markers.
Rookie Carter King – who Keith said has “taken his game to a whole other level,” of late – scored a pair of goals, while Gabe Schovanek and defenceman Brett Bliss rounded out the scoring for Surrey.
Neither team scored in the third period.
King’s line, which also included Brandon Santa Juana and center Kenny Riddett, was the team’s “best line this weekend, by far,” Keith added.
The line combined to score the opening goal in Saturday’s game, too, with Santa Juana scoring and the other two drawing assists.
Defenceman Owen Nolan made it 2-0 just 40 seconds into the second period – with Santa Juana and Riddett assisting – and captain Hudson Schandor and Schovanek rounded out the scoring with third-period goals.
The Eagles will stay on the road this week, too. On Wednesday, they played a midweek tilt against the first-place Express in Coquitlam, and on Friday, they’ll head to West Kelowna to take on the Warriors. On Saturday, they head across the border to take on the Wenatchee Wild.
Surrey’s next home game is Jan. 24, when Prince George comes to South Surrey Arena.