Division rivals to square off in Round 1
In advance of their team’s first-round playoff series with the Langley Rivermen, the Surrey Eagles’ coaching staff has spent the week poring over video, strategizing and looking for even the smallest of advantages for their team.
And they’ve done it knowing full well that the whole plan might be tossed out the window at a moment’s notice once the best-of-five showdown begins Friday at South Surrey Arena.
“You plan for about the first 10 minutes of the first period of the first game and, after that, it’s just about adjustments,” said head coach Matt Erhart. “You can plan and plan all you want, but then who knows? Something happens and you change on the fly.”
While change is inevitable over the course of the series, one constant Erhart has stressed to his troops this week is the importance of sticking to what they do best – play good defence in front of the BCHL’s top netminder, Michael Santaguida, and score opportunistic goals when the chances arise.
“We aren’t going to change the way we play too much depending on who we’re playing. Too often we did that earlier in the season – we were trying too hard to counteract what other teams were doing,” Erhart said. “But since Christmas, we’ve focused on our own game, and it’s that’s not good enough to win, then I guess we’re not good enough. But we think we have a good chance to win every game we play when we stick to our style.”
It’s certainly been good enough against the Rivermen this season. In eight head-to-head matchups during the regular season, the Eagles won seven – including a 10-2 drubbing in January.
“If we were playing an Island team in the first round, (making a game plan) would be different because we’d only have played them a couple times, but playing a team eight times – and three or four times since Christmas – most guys on both sides have a pretty good idea about what to expect,” Erhart said.
Both teams have been red-hot since Christmas, with the Rivermen – losses to Surrey aside – pulling themselves out of the bottom of the Mainland Division and into a playoff spot, and the Eagles rolling to the best record not only in the conference, but the entire BCHL. In 26 games since the Christmas break, the Eagles have lost just three games in regulation time. They’ve won 18 of those games, tied two others and lost three in overtime.
While Langley’s record is not quite that gaudy over the last few months, they still boast the league’s top point-getter in Mario Puskarich, who had 41 goals and 89 points in 55 games this season. He also helped key a Langley power play that ranked seventh in the BCHL during the regular season.
“You have to be aware of (Puskarich),” said Erhart, whose team ranked fourth in penalty-killing during the regular season.
“He’s a very dangerous player. He gets a lot of his points on the power play, so our penalty killing is going to be pretty important.
Surrey is not without offensive talent, either, led by forwards Brady Shaw and Adam Tambellini, who finished fifth and 11th, respectively, in the BCHL scoring race.
Since Tambellini arrived from the Vernon Vipers, Erhart has played him and Shaw on the same line, but lately has split them up in an effort to spread offence throughout the lineup and create matchup problems for the Rivermen coaching staff, who will have to decide which of the two lines their top defence pair will play against.
Erhart also expects Demico Hannoun and captain Brett Mulcahy – among others – back in the lineup. The only two players who won’t suit up are goaltender Glenn Ferguson and defenceman Troy Paterson, both of whom have been out for months.
“We’re going to have basically a full complement of players for the first time in two months,” Erhart said. “We haven’t had that in quite awhile.”
Erhart knows better than to count on a full roster for the entire post-season – in the last three weeks, the team has played with as many as seven regulars out of the lineup – but regardless of how his lineup is configured, he expects “smart, hard hockey” out of his squad.
And considering their opponent is a division rival, he doesn’t expect motivation to be much of an issue.
“I’ve yet to be involved in a non-intense playoff series,” he laughed. “So I’m sure this one will be no different.”
Game 1 goes Friday at South Surrey Arena, and Game 2 is slated for Saturday, also in South Surrey. For Game 3, the series shifts to the Langley Events Centre on Monday, and Game 4 – if necessary – will be played Tuesday.