Eagles' season ends with home loss
Through the first five games of their best-of-seven Coastal Conference final against the Powell River Kings, the Surrey Eagles were plagued by slow starts – the Kings scored first in each game.
And though the Eagles were able to claw back and win two of those tilts, they weren't so lucky Friday at South Surrey Arena, losing a Game 6 4-1, thus bringing an end to the Peninsula junior hockey team's season.
"We just ran out of gas, and against a good team like Powell River, we just came up a little bit short," said Eagles coach Matt Erhart, noting that 17 players are eligible to return next season.
"It's a good lesson for those guys, and hopefully will help us next year. We couldn't have asked for anything more from the guys."
The Eagles had forced Game 6 after winning a day earlier 3-1 in Powell River – a contest in which the Eagles didn't mount any offence in the opening frame, and relied on a monster performance from goalie Karel St. Laurent to get the victory.
Neither team mounted much offence early in Friday's deciding game, either, but the high-powered Kings took a commanding lead early in the second frame, when Daniel Schuler and Chad Niddery – the latter on a power play – scored highlight-reel worthy goals to put the visitors up 2-0 by the seven-minute mark.
The turning point – or the nail in the coffin, as it were - came just over eight minutes later, when Eagles' forward Robert Lindores was whistled for a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct for a check-from-behind on Niddery, Powell River's leading scorer.
On the ensuing five-minute power play, the Kings extended the lead to 3-0 on a goal by Cohen Adair.
Early in the third period, Surrey had the opportunity to cut the gap during a five-on-three power play – which last a full minute – but they were unable to beat Kings' netminder Michael Garteig.
Shortly after the Eagles' man-advantage yielded nothing, the Kings put the game out of reach when Schuler walked around a Surrey blue-liner and slipped the puck past St. Laurent.
At the 11:17 mark, 20-year-old Daniel Gentzler – playing his last game of junior hockey – finally got the home team on the board when he converted a rebound of a Steve Koshey shot.
After a loss heart-breaking loss last Tuesday – the Kings won the game in triple-overtime – the Eagles trailed 3-1 in the series, but kept their season afloat Thursday with the Game 5 win.
Playing in a hostile environment – Hap Parker Arena, where the Kings lost just four times during the regular season – the Eagles scored three unanswered goals over the final 40 minutes to erase an early 1-0 deficit to earn the win.
After Powell River's Craig Dalrymple opened the scoring 12:20 into the first period with a power-play goal, the Eagles responded in the second frame on an unassisted power-play marker from Jeff Vanderlugt.
In the third, Hayden Trupp and Richard Vanderhoek scored four minutes apart to extend the lead.
"We played extremely well in Game 5," Erhart said.
St. Laurent was instrumental in extending the series another day – stopping 44 of 45 Kings' shots. He was named the game's first star.
The series' two netminders – St. Laurent and Garteig – were nothing short of spectacular in the six-game series. The two rank 1-2 in playoff goaltending statistics – Garteig currently sports a goals-against average of 1.97 and a save-percentage of .923. St. Laurent, meanwhile, has similar numbers – 2.20 goals-against and a sparkling .934 save percentage – while facing more shots than another other playoff goaltender.
The Kings now advance to the Fred Page Cup finals, where they'll square off against the Vernon Vipers in a rematch of the last two BCHL championship series. The best-of-seven series begins April 1.
As is usually the case when a long playoff run comes to an end – and the Surrey Eagles' just-finished playoff stretch was the longest since the team's championship season of 2005 – it's not until the final horn sounds that certain injuries are brought to light.
And the Eagles are no different; through the course of three best-of-seven post-season rounds, the team dealt with a myriad of maladies, some of them more serious – and in the case of forward Scott Holm, more grotesque – than others.
Holm – who'll play next season at Air Force – played the last four games of the Powell River series with a badly injured middle finger on his right hand. The tip of the digit had to be stitched back on, and Eagles' marketing director Kyle Bryan, when posting a photo of the injury to the team's Twitter account, added Holm "almost lost the end" of it.
In addition to Holm, other members of the team found themselves in the trainer's room throughout the post-season.
Captain Tyler Morley, it was announced after the Coastal Conference finals, was playing with a broken nose and broken hand, and blue-liner Linden Saip – who was a key part of the team's blue-line after being picked up in January from the Western Hockey League – played just eight playoff games of a possible 16 due to a high ankle sprain. He returned to the lineup in Game 4 of the conference finals, but was out again just a few shifts into Game 5 with the same ankle problem.
Dale Hunt, another midseason addition who had 19 points in 26 regular season games in Surrey, missed all but two playoff games due to an ankle injury that carried over from the regular season, and leading scorer and team MVP Brad McGowan also missed the last two games against Powell River with a concussion.
Surrey also played the entire postseason without rookie forward Michael Stenerson, who broke his leg at the tail-end of the regular season.
"Three rounds into the playoffs, and these things eventually catch up to you, but it's not an excuse – I'm sure every team has the same issues this time of the year," Eagles coach Matt Erhart said.
The scheduling in each series – which often saw teams play three straight nights, with travel in between each game – did not help teams on the injury front, either, as they had little time to recover between games.
On Friday before Game 6, McGowan wrote on his personal Twitter account,
"3 games in 3 nights in 3rd round with a 6 hour trip," and ended the missive with the hashtag #whatisthebchlthinking.
Erhart refused to use the travel issues as a crutch for the loss, however.
"It was the same for both teams," he said.