Last month’s announcement that Peter Schaefer would not return as the head coach and general manager of the Surrey Eagles is simply another step in the team’s long-range plan, according to team president Chuck Westgard.
Schaefer’s ouster – after just one year at the helm of the BC Hockey League team – had been rumoured since the team was bounced from the first-round of playoffs in the spring and Westgard bought out the team’s other ownership partners while also bringing Pro4 Sports personnel into the team’s front office.
Schaefer told Peace Arch News the decision was “mutual” and partly driven by finances. Schaefer will be replaced behind the bench by Blaine Neufeld, who was already with the club; in late-April he was named Surrey’s director of hockey operations.
Westgard said financial considerations “were part of it” but added that the move gives the team’s front office more stability. At the start of last season, Schaefer wore three hats with the club, as coach/general manager/president.
“This is just a more structured organization now,” Westgard said, adding that he will also be taking a more hands-on role with the club.
Westgard also said the grind of being the team’s top dog may have been a lot for Schaefer, a former National Hockey League forward who served as an assistant coach before taking over last summer, to handle.
“It was his first year as a head coach, and it’s a lot of work, day-to-day,” Westgard said.
“And he’s got a young family, so it was a little bit of everything.”
Despite rumours throughout the off-season, Westgard said the decision for the two parties to part ways was only decided recently.
“There were a lot of discussions,” he said.
Schaefer, who had one year left on his coaching contract with the Eagles, will stay aboard as a consultant. Talking last week, Schaefer wouldn’t comment on whether Neufeld’s hiring – which placed him above the general manager in the front-office food chain – was part of the reason for his exit, but Westgard admitted that it may have played a part.
“I don’t want to speak for Peter, but it might have had something to do with it, sure, but you’d have to ask him,” Westgard said.
With the team’s new focus on bringing young, local players onto the roster – the team has signed a handful of Surrey, Cloverdale and Semiahmoo Minor Hockey alums this offseason – Westgard said bringing a young coach aboard made sense longterm.
Neufeld is 27, and has junior ‘A’ coaching experience as a goaltending coach with the Winkler Flyers in Manitoba.
“Blaine is a young coach, but he’s got experience – he’s not coming out of nowhere. He’s a hockey guy,” said Westgard.
“And he will have a chance to grow (with a young team).”
Westgard pointed to the team’s hiring of Matt Erhart – Schaefer’s predecessor – in 2010/11 as an example of why he’s excited by Neufeld’s arrival.
“Matt was an assistant with us for just the one year when we hired him, and that worked out pretty good,” Westgard said, alluding to the team’s Fred Page Cup title and run to the RBC Cup two seasons ago.
“And I get a similar feeling about Blaine that we got with Matt back then. We’re excited about it.”
Westgard was equally bullish on the team’s commitment to icing a roster with local content, though he was quick to point out that it would not come at the expense of icing a competitive team.
“It’s a balance. We’d love to have a lot of (locals) on the roster, but we’re going to continue to bring in other guys, as well,” he said.
“Our main goal is to help get these kids scholarships, but a close second is to win, and we’re going to try and do that every year.”