The Surrey Eagles have landed.
One of the most successful seasons in the South Surrey-based junior hockey team’s history came to a close Saturday, with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Summerside Western Capitals in the semifinals of the RBC Cup.
Playing in front of thousands of hometown fans – Summerside’s Credit Union Place was packed with an announced crowd of 3,386 – Chris Caissy scored the winning goal when he scooped up a loose puck in the neutral zone and, eluding a check from a Surrey defender, snapped a shot inside the far post, beating Eagles goalie Michael Santaguida.
“It’s tough to lose, especially in overtime like that, but we battled hard,” said Eagles coach Matt Erhart.
“There’s obviously sadness after losing, but you’ve got to look at the big picture. You’ve got to look at how much we were able to accomplish and the guys on the team realize that.”
Prior to Caissy’s winning goal, both teams had their chances to end the game. Demico Hannoun had one of the Eagles’ best chances, tipping a puck on net after receiving a pass from Drew Best, but Summerside netminder Kevin Baillie made a tough save.
Baillie, who began the season with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights, was the story Saturday, stopping 50 shots.
“Their goalie really was the difference,” said Erhart. “It was a goaltending battle.”
It was the second time in a week the two squads had gone to overtime to settle things. On Day 3 of the tournament (May 13), the Eagles edged the Capitals 5-4 when Surrey captain Brett Mulcahy scored the winner in OT.
The history between the two clubs on opposite coasts extends back even further, too. In the finals of the 1997 Royal Bank Cup – which was also hosted by Summerside – the Capitals defeated Surrey 4-3.
Saturday’s game was scoreless through the first period, and the Eagles were forced to kill three penalties – including a major to Colton Mackie, who was ejected from the game at the 3:31 mark after a hit-from-behind.
In the final minute of the second period, Summerside’s JP Harvey finally broke the scoreless deadlock when, on the power play, he one-timed a pass from Justin Rasmussen past Santaguida, who stopped 42 shots in the game.
The lead didn’t last long, as 4:47 into the third, Best, on a breakaway, fired a shot top shelf past Baillie.
Danny Chiasson restored the host team’s lead shortly thereafter, but Brett Mulcahy sent the game to extra time when he deflected a Dan O’Keefe point shot behind Baillie just past the 12-minute mark of the period.
With Saturday’s win, the Capitals advanced to the RBC Cup championship game Sunday, where they lost 3-1 to the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Brooks Bandits.
The Bandits – who the Eagles beat in the finals of the Western Canada Cup – punched their ticket to the title game after an overtime win Saturday over the Minnesota Wilderness.
Erhart said the fact that his team had previously defeated both RBC Cup finalists didn’t make the semifinal loss any easier, or tougher, to stomach.
“I don’t know that it makes it easier or worse,” he said. “It just shows that we were right there.
“A bounce here or there, and it could’ve been us.”
Prior to Saturday’s loss, the Eagles had been getting their fair share of timely breaks. Including their 5-4 overtime win over Summerside on May 13, Surrey was a perfect 6-0 in overtimes this postseason.
“The law of averages says we were going to lose one somewhere,” Erhart said.
Because they played months longer than many teams, Erhart and his coaching staff now have very little time to prepare for next season.
There will be plenty of roster spots to fill, as 11 players will move on, either due to age or NCAA scholarships. Among those who played their last game in Eagles’ colours Saturday are Michael Stenerson, Brady Shaw, Adam Tambellini, Devon Toews, Trevor Cameron, Craig Wyszomirski, Santaguida and O’Keefe.
And though other teams have already held prospect camps and scouted extensively, Erhart says his team’s run to the national championships should serve as a recruiting tool to help restock the shelves.
“Everybody wants to play for a winner,” he said.
The RBC Cup award winners were announced Saturday – and were based on the tournament’s preliminary-round play.
Surrey’s Adam Tambellini was named the top forward, while Devon Toews was named the top defenceman.
Brooks forward Cam Maclise was named MVP, and was also named player of the year for the entire Canadian Junior Hockey League.
RBC Cup Legacy scholarships – worth $500 apiece – were also handed out. Trevor Cameron was the Surrey Eagles’ recipient.