With a few weeks left before the start of the regular season, Surrey Eagles’ head coach Matt Erhart is pleased with what he’s seen from his team so far this preseason – which makes the final few roster decisions even tougher.
“It’s been a longer camp than usual, but it’s really allowed us to get a better look at what we have here,” Erhart said.
“We don’t want to rush to any decisions, and we’ve got a few tough decisions left to make, but we’ve been very happy with the group here.”
After initial cuts in training camp, the Eagles had 27 players left on the roster heading into last weekend’s two pre-season games against the Chilliwack Chiefs – both of which were won by the Eagles – and are down to 25 players after sending a pair of young prospects back to their respective midget teams.
“By the middle of the week we’ll probably be down a couple more, and then by the end of the week, after our last (pre-season) game, we should be at our number, for sure,” Erhart said. “We just don’t want to make our decisions too quickly, because guys get injured and then you’re (short players), so we’ll take our time and make the right decisions.”
Surrey beat Chilliwack 4-2 on Friday at South Surrey Arena, and followed that with another 4-2 victory Saturday in Chilliwack. Prior to that, the Eagles had lost two exhibition tilts to Coquitlam in late August.
And though Erhart doesn’t put much stock in preseason win-loss records, it was still nice to win two on the weekend, he said.
“I think I (was) 0-6 as a head coach in preseason,” he laughed. “Nice to get off the schnied, here.”
Where the Eagles will look markedly different this season, regardless of Erhart’s final cuts, is on the blue line, as the team looks to replace departed veterans Mitch Jones and Riley Sweeney, both of whom are playing in the NCAA this year, and steady stay-at-home defenceman Doug Wedel, who was dealt to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in August. Another vet, Josh Monk, was dealt to the Cowichan Valley Capitals in exchange for forward Brandon Tanev.
Erhart is also in the market for a backup goaltender, but he’s been impressed so far with the play of returnee Andrew Hunt, who he expects will handle the bulk of the work in the crease this season.
“He’s had a great camp, and we’re really looking forward to seeing what he can do,” Erhart said. “Andrew’s gone through the process, of playing junior B, then coming in here as a backup last year. He’s 19 now, so this is his time to take that next step.”
Erhart said he’s also been impressed so far with the play of a handful of new players brought in during the off-season, including Charles Orzetti, Matt Cronin, Sean McGovern and Tanev.
“We’re happy with the group here. Everybody we’ve brought in has worked out very well so far.”
But if the Eagles are to duplicate, or improve upon, their success of last year – they advanced all the way to Coastal Conference finals – it will be the returning veterans, Erhart said, who will carry the load.
“It sounds cliche, but everybody coming back from last year is bigger and better,” he said.
“And those guys have a bitter taste in their mouths, after losing in the conference finals last year. I think they went into the summer focused, and they trained accordingly, and now they’re coming back and looking to go even further.”
The Eagles wrap up the pre-season schedule Friday, when they host the Langley Rivermen at South Surrey Arena. Puck drops at 7 p.m.