The Surrey Eagles will have a new coach behind the bench for the 2017/18 BC Hockey League season, following through on a pledge that team president and owner Chuck Westgard made back in March.
However, the new bench boss won’t be former assistant Rick Lanz, who finished the 2016/17 season in the head-coach role, with head coach/general manager Neufeld serving as solely as GM.
Instead, former Salmon Arm Silverbacks head coach Brandon West has been hired to take over, while Neufeld loses the dual role but will remain as the team’s general manager.
As well, Westgard will take a more hands-on role with the team, a news release notes, and will essentially replacing the management company that was been brought aboard three years ago to run the team – and for which Neufeld previously worked. Now, Neufeld is solely an employee of the Eagles, Westgard said.
“I think it’ll be a breath of fresh air for Blaine, and he can really focus on what he does best. He’s very excited about it,” Westgard told Peace Arch News Wednesday, prior to the team’s official announcement. “He’s been very busy since February, travelling and trying to find us some hockey players.”
Neufeld said the hiring was “something we have been planning to do for some time now.”
“It was all about finding the right person that shared the same vision as myself and that I’d be willing to trust to carry it out,” he said. “We have taken our hits and… are stronger (for) them, but now we are so close to winning that it was extra important it was the perfect fit, which we feel (West) is.”
Lanz will not return to the team, Westgard said, nor will fellow assistant coach Riley Sweeney. Sweeney, a former Eagles’ defenceman, has decided to return to the ice as a player and will be pursuing playing opportunities in Europe, Westgard said.
In West, the Eagles’ bring aboard a coach who, while just 32 years old, has plenty of experience. He has seven years experience in the BCHL, the last three as head coach of the Silverbacks. He signed a multi-year deal with Surrey and will also hold the title of director of player personnel. In 2015, West served as coach during the CJHL Top Prospects game – which was played at South Surrey Arena – and he’s also served as a coach with Canada West at the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge.
“I am honoured and exicted to be joining the Surrey Eagles organization. We have an eager group here that is driven to make an impact on and off the ice,” West said in the release.
“After meeting with all the staff, things just lined up in what we are all looking for, and we believe we are heading in the right direction… my family and I are very excited to be Surrey Eagles.”
Westgard – who praised West for “really being on the pulse of the league” – said the changes within the organization were made with an eye to returning the team to “where it is meant to be, the RBC Championship.”
Three years ago, the Eagles won the BCHL’s Fred Page Cup and the Western Canada Cup, eventually losing in overtime in the semifinal of the RBC Cup in P.E.I.
While Neufeld and West will run the hockey-operations side of the organization, Westgard – a former professional baseball player who is one of Canada’s most successful girls fastpitch coaches – said he will be “more actively involved in the decisions.”
“I’m just going to be able to help more (than in the past),” he said.
He joked that, with the previous management group out, “there’s a little heat on me now, I guess,” but was excited nonetheless.
“We sat down and looked at everything… and I just thought for the well-being of the organization, this was the way to go.”