Check, check and check.
Yet at the time of writing this piece, the Eagles are battling for second place in the B.C Hockey League’s Mainland Division with home ice a real possibility in round 1 of the Fred Page Cup Playoffs – a place Eagles General Manager Blaine Neufeld and Head Coach Cam Keith could only dream of when the season began on Sept. 6.
A lot has gone on with this young group, but the belief the team was turning the corner began in the off-season when Keith was brought in to help rebuild a franchise which had struggled in recent years.
“When we began this season it was establishing a new culture and new identity,” Neufeld explains. “When we brought in Cam, we both saw eye to eye right away and we were both very excited about shaping this team for this year and the year to come. The expectation for this year was to create a winning culture and be competitive.”
Keith echoes his general manager’s thoughts. “Well, beginning of the year and to Christmas this team was focused on development, helping every player reach their full potential and to be competitive within the division.”
Looking back, the Eagles accomplished those early-season tasks, but those habits didn’t come without struggles. The team traded long time mainstay Cody Schiavon in late October as the team was wrapping up a month which saw them go 2-7-1 and sitting in the basement of the Mainland Division.
Then as they started to rebound, they lost leading scorer Holden Katzalay in November for nothing after he decided to join the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants. Such a loss should’ve crippled a young hockey team with only one 20 year old and one returning player from last year, but it didn’t. The team went into Christmas with a 14-17-6 record, and firmly in the hunt for a divisional playoff spot.
New year, new heights for the Eagles
Then the new year hit, better yet a new decade. 2020 saw the Eagles soar to new heights with the help of some fresh faces acquired as the season had progressed. Kieran O’Hearn (acquired in the Schiavon trade), Hassan Akl, Jordan Hendry, and Brendan Kim were all acquired before Christmas to help support this young group.
Neufeld explains the team’s success with Keith’s strong trades. “Every move that we made helped in a special way, and it’s helped us realize we can look at winning now, and be very much intact for next year.”
The last move came right at the CJHL’s trade deadline, when the team picked up for from the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos. Klassen was very appreciative to come back home. “It’s something different. I haven’t been home for a while, so it’s nice being home with family, and playing for my hometown Jr. A team is obviously fun, especially with this group that’s lighting it up right now.”
Lighting it up on the way to playoffs
Klassen is bang-on saying this team is lighting it up right now. The Eagles are 13-6-2 in the new year. This run however was foreseen, as Neufeld put it.
“As time has gone on a third box (was) added, and it was to win. Expectations have grown in the past month as we realize we can go on a special run with destiny in (the team’s) hands.”
The Head Coach agrees. “We’re extremely proud and excited about some of these young players. You can see the next step in their development, and it makes you feel good.”
Now playoffs are here, and this young team is looking to show everyone they’re for real. There’s a special feeling in this locker room, and Brandon Santa Juana, the team’s lone returning player gave a short-and-sweet breakdown about why this team is so good. “This team’s so close, everyone talks to everyone, everyone holds each other accountable, and each line has great chemistry.”
Their success means nothing without the support from the community, and the team appreciates it. “It’s been really exciting in the building that on-ice success is there now, but the building continues to have a bit more of a vibe in it,” Neufeld explains. “It means a lot for the players on the ice to be playing in front of big crowds in meaningful games.”
Keith agrees. “As much as kids might try to play it off, everyone likes the attention when they’re earning it in the right way. They’ve responded well to big crowds with great efforts.”
Santa Juana and Klassen both admitted it.
“Helps a lot, the atmosphere, the fans cheering is great and I hope we see a lot more in the playoffs,” Santa Juana says.
Adds Klassen,”Well, I just know being around a team that’s playing like this, it’s exciting to see the fans come and support us. Every game it feels like the crowds are getting louder, and it helps us find our game a little quicker.”
With all the added support, there’s just one more goal this team will try to accomplish, and Keith put it best.
“We have to reach for a new goal, and that’s to win a BCHL championship.”
Tickets for round 1 are online on our website by clicking this link: https://www.surreyeagles.ca/single-game-tickets. It all gets underway Feb. 28, with seeding still to be announced.