COLUMN: The long, cold road back to success

After two years at the bottom of the BC Hockey League standings, the Surrey Eagles may finally – hopefully – be turning a corner.

After nearly 15 years as a sports reporter, I won’t fathom a guess as to how many hockey games I’ve watched.

And for my own sanity, I’m better off not trying to tally up all the hours I’ve spent in cold arenas, either – from Kamloops to Fort St. John to Peace River to South Surrey.

But what I do remember instead are individual moments.

Like the time I stood, leaning against a wall while waiting for a player to come out of the dressing room, only to realize the hallway was so cold that my jacket had become frozen to the building, like the tongue of a child who dares lick a frosty lamp post.

Or when – while working for my university newspaper – a member of the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers told me he didn’t worry about getting an education because he was going to have a long, successful professional hockey career. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t.)

There have been angry managers who I’ve seen kick over garbage cans; goaltenders who’ve shot pucks at me post-game; wonderful parents who’ve bought me coffee and less-than-wonderful ones who’ve threatened to have me fired. (Spoiler alert: they haven’t… yet).

And there was one coach who, hours after his team’s game had ended, helped me dig my car out of a snowbank after I’d spun out in an empty arena parking lot.

All of which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the Surrey Eagles – a BC Hockey League team with a long, storied history which itself is trying to come in from the cold.

If you’ve been following along, the team has struggled mightily since 2014, winning just 16 games in two seasons. The organization has had its fair share of challenges, both on and off the ice – many of them detailed last spring by team president Chuck Westgard in an interview with PAN – but now, with a new season underway, there is hope, as there is for every team this time of year.

And though the team’s fate this season doesn’t affect me personally, I am hopeful that maybe they’ve started on a journey back to respectability.

Sure, the sample size is small – just one game, which they lost 8-7 – but when you’ve been around the game long enough, you can start to get a sense for when a team might be turning a corner, for better or worse.

Yes, they gave up eight goals in their home-opener, but scoring seven themselves? Last year, it might’ve taken the team two weeks to reach that mark.

Baby steps.

I hope for better things this year not purely for selfish reasons – though it is a lot more fun to cover a winning team – but also because I’d like to see people’s work rewarded.

It’s a tough grind, trying to run a profitable junior-hockey team, especially in the Lower Mainland where people’s entertainment dollars are stretched in many directions, but the team’s staff – from Westgard and head coach Blaine Neufeld to former owner Ronnie Paterson and everyone else in the organization – have tried darn near everything to bring excitement back to South Surrey Arena.

Quibble with the results all you’d like – icing a nearly all-local roster in 2014 didn’t work – but moving home games this year to Thursday nights shows they aren’t afraid to try new things.

And last weekend’s alumni game, which featured former NHL star Scott Gomez, was by all accounts a success.

But while I’m no business major, when it comes to running a successful sports team, I tend to heed the oft-quoted advice of the late Al Davis, the legendary owner of the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders: “Just win, baby.”

It’s been far too long since the Eagles did that on a consistent basis, but for all involved, let’s hope now is the moment they start digging themselves out of the snow.

Nick Greenizan is a reporter at the Peace Arch News.

Just Posted

Surrey RCMP search for missing 17-year-old girl

Mikayla Logan was last seen in Guildford on Tuesday, May 14

GALLERY: Cloverdale Rodeo Parade brings thousands through the town centre

From ponies to hot rods, the 73rd annual parade had it all

Free winter parking, higher summer rates eyed for White Rock waterfront

Councillor calls for more hard data on the impact of trial free parking on Marine Drive businesses

Surrey to begin ‘public engagement process’ on policing transition next week

First in a series of public events set for May 23 at Cloverdale rec centre

Construction launched for South Surrey high school

Education minister announces $6M for completion of land for new school in Sunnyside neighbourhood

Jeep totalled, four young people in hospital, after single-vehicle crash in Surrey

Mounties have not ruled out any possible factors in what led to the overnight crash

Update: Mother dead, child in critical condition after carbon monoxide poisoning at Shuswap campground

The woman was found unresponsive insider her tent and the youth was taken via air ambulance to hospital

Kelowna RCMP interrogation video brings home reality in ‘visceral way’: former TRC chairman

Video of Mountie interrogating young Indigenous woman disclosing sexual abuse under fire

Canada’s parole officers say correctional system has reached breaking point

About half of Canada’s federal parole officers work inside penitentiaries and correctional institutions

Montreal researchers create audible hockey puck for visually impaired players

Three years ago, Gilles Ouellet came up with the idea for a puck that makes a continuous sound

Former B.C. Greyhound bus drivers head to Penticton for goodbye party

Big bash runs until Sunday, funded by drink cans left behind on busses over the years

Full-scale search underway for missing kayaker on Okanagan Lake

Kelowna Paddle Centre member Zygmunt Janiewicz, 71, failed to return from his ‘daily kayak’ on the lake

ICBC urging drivers to slow down this May long weekend

Speed is number one cause of car crash fatalities: ICBC

Bucks hammer Raptors 125-103 to take 2-0 playoff series lead

Toronto heads home in a hole after second loss to Milwaukee

Most Read

l -->