Though they were officially eliminated from BC Hockey League playoff contention two weekends ago, the Surrey Eagles still have plenty to play for over the final month of the season, says head coach Blaine Neufeld.
That the Eagles won’t participate in the playoffs is no great surprise – with just six wins on the season, the writing had been on the wall for weeks, if not months – but whether it’s young players trying to cement a spot on next year’s roster, or older players still vying for attention from college scouts, Neufeld insists these last 10 games are as important as any other .
“We’re playing for pride, yeah there’s a little bit of that, sure. And we’re a young group that is learning how to win, so there’s lots of things we can still take from these last few games. There’s a lot of purpose,” he said.
Neufeld’s optimism hasn’t waned despite another three losses last weekend – 4-3 to Wenatchee, 5-2 to Chilliwack and 4-2 against Langley.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
The three opponents are the top three teams in the BCHL’s Mainland Divison – and all have already qualified for the playoffs – and Surrey came close to earn victories against both the Wild and Rivermen.
Against Wenatchee on Friday, the Birds led 2-1 early in the third period until Wenatchee scored twice in 20 seconds to steal a lead and the game’s momentum; against Langley Sunday afternoon, it was a three-goals-in-two-minutes explosion from the Rivermen that sunk the visiting Eagles.
“We had small lapses in focus in each game, and it cost us. That’s our kryptonite right now – bouncing back after a goal against,” said Neufeld.
“But we aren’t overly concerned with the scoreboard at this point. We look a bit deeper now – are we out-chancing them, are we playing better defence?
“Wenatchee is one of the best teams in our league and we limited them to just 27 shots, and in Langley, I thought we controlled long portions of the game, to be honest.”
From an offensive standpoint, Eagles’ forwards Jaxon Joseph and Kurt Black were the team’s standouts – and both are examples Neufeld pointed to when detailing the importance of the team’s remaining games.
For example, Joseph – who had two goals Friday against the Wild – is a rookie, having joined Surrey from the junior ‘B’ ranks in midseason.
He – and a host of other young players that dot the Eagles’ roster – need strong showings down the stretch to ensure they stay in the team’s plans for next season.
“Even though we aren’t in the playoffs, you want to give everything you’ve got to make sure you’ve given the coaches enough to want to bring you back. Nobody wants to be left behind,” Neufeld said.
“And Jaxon is a good example. He’s been able to adapt very quickly to this level, and he’s been a super-underrated player for us since he joined us.”
The 20-year-old Black, meanwhile, is playing for a college scholarship – something Neufeld expects he will achieve in the not-too-distant future.
“Guys like Kurt, and (goaltender) Justin Laforest, we’re trying to showcase both those guys, and there’s been a lot of interest. I know as an older player it can be tough to go into the last few games of your season without (a scholarship), but for both those guys, I know this isn’t the end of their hockey careers,” Neufeld said.
Though wins and losses are of little consequence now, Neufeld said his team has still set a goal to win at least five of the remaining 10 games on the schedule. They’ll get an opportunity for three of those this coming long weekend – they travel to Prince George for games against the Spruce Kings today (Friday) and Saturday, and then return home for a 2 p.m. Family Day matinee Monday against the Coquitlam Express.