The Surrey Eagles have known for more than a month that they’d be participating in the first-round of BC Hockey League playoffs, but it took until the last weekend of the regular season to find out who’d they play.
And the answer is the Langley Rivermen.
The first-round Mainland Division matchup was confirmed Saturday night on Vancouver Island, after the Eagles defeated the Cowichan Valley Capitals 5-3. The Rivermen also won Saturday – 4-0 over the Merritt Centennials – to cement both clubs into the second- and third-place spots in the division.
“They’re a really good team – high energy, a big, strong, physical team – and we’re going to have to be able to match that physicality and be able to out-skate those guys,” said Surrey Eagles assistant coach Linden Saip.
“It’s going to be tough the first couple of games not having home-ice advantage with the last change. … We feel like we’re quite deep and have the ability to score and it’s just being able to out-compete the opponent.
“That’s going to be the biggest thing because we know Langley’s got a hard-working team.”
On Friday, both Surrey and Langley earned a single point in the standings, with the Birds earning one in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Nanaimo Clippers and Langley tying Coquitlam 2-2.
The Rivermen finished up one point ahead of the Eagles – 63 to 62 – and therefore will have home-ice advantage in the first-round, best-of-seven series.
Had the Eagles won their final game of the season Sunday, the situation would have been reversed.
The Eagles finish with a regular-season record of 26-22-8-2 (win-loss-overtime loss-tie) – the first time the team has had a record above .500 since 2012/13, when they finished atop the Mainland Division with 35 wins and just 13 losses.
BCHL playoffs start this weekend.
On Sunday, the Eagles wrapped up the regular season with a 4-3 double-overtime loss to the Victoria Grizzlies – a game in which Birds’ netminder Mario Cavaliere stopped 55 shots.
Ten of Cavaliere’s saves came in the two overtime sessions, and he kept his team in the game until Victoria’s Carter Berger finally broke the deadlock 2:45 into the second OT period.
Prior to Berger’s winner, the game was a back-and-forth affair, with Surrey’s Chase Danol and Aaron White scoring in the first period – sandwiched around a Grizzlies’ goal from Finn Withey – but the home side tied it 2-2 in the second on a goal from Dayne Finnson.
In the third, the teams traded goals again, with Ryan Brushett scoring his 21st of the season to give the Eagles a lead, which lasted only 10 minutes until Ethan Nother tied it up in the final minute, sending the game into extra time.
Saturday’s game in Cowichan – against the last-place Capitals – was another one-goal game, but this time went the Eagles’ way.
Danol led the charge with two goals, John Wesley and Brushett each had a goal and an assist, and White and Desi Burgart chipped in with a pair of helpers. Daniel Davidson was between the pipes for Surrey, earning the win while making 31 saves.
Wesley’s goal gave him 37 on the season – tying him for the league lead with Wenatchee Wild’s Jasper Weatherby, who also led the BCHL in points with 74, beating Surrey’s Ty Westgard by four.
Wesley and Westgard – who both left the Eagles for stints in the Western Hockey League before returning to the team – are two of just a handful of players, including Davidson, who were members of the team during its lethargic two-year run in which they finished last in the BCHL.
Wesley told Peace Arch News in November that a playoff berth for the Eagles would be extra sweet this season, considering where the team was situated just a few seasons prior.
“We had some tough seasons, back when I was here before,” he said at the time.
“I grew up watching the Surrey Eagles, so it was always a dream of mine to play here… To make the playoffs here would be super exciting.”
– with files from Troy Landreville