Garrett James photo                                 Surrey Eagles captain Ty Westgard is aiming for a strong second half of the season, and a long playoff run, in his final year of junior hockey.

Garrett James photo Surrey Eagles captain Ty Westgard is aiming for a strong second half of the season, and a long playoff run, in his final year of junior hockey.

Longtime Surrey Eagle Ty Westgard seeks success in final year of junior hockey

20-year-old Semiahmoo Minor Hockey alum looks to lead team back into win column

By nearly every measure, Ty Westgard is having a great season for the Surrey Eagles.

The 20-year-old leads his team in scoring, and his offensive numbers – 33 points in 23 games so far – have had him perched at or near the top of the BC Hockey League’s scoring leaders since the first week of the season; he’s currently tied for fifth, five points shy of leader Kevin Wall of the Chilliwack Chiefs.

But what the well-travelled Semiahmoo Minor Hockey alum really wants – more than any point total – is team success in his final season of junior hockey eligibility. So far this year, that has largely eluded Westgard and his teammates, as the Eagles – who made it to the second round of playoffs last year – have struggled to a 6-19-0-1 (win-loss-overtime loss-shootout loss) record.

Last weekend, Surrey lost road games to Wenatchee and West Kelowna, before dropping a 10-2 game to Chilliwack on Monday afternoon.

• READ ALSO: Westgard hat trick leads Surrey Eagles to win over Langley

• READ ALSO: Surrey Eagles add third goalie amid flurry of roster moves

“It’s been tough because we went up last year, and now we’re struggling a bit again,” he said. “But that’s hockey – I think we have a way better team than our record shows right now. We’ve just had a lot of adversity – guys out with injuries, that kind of stuff.”

Though he’s had a few stints in the Western Hockey League interspersed with his BCHL career, Westgard – who was named captain before the start of the season – is the team’s longest serving player, and is the only one left who experienced Surrey’s back-to-back single-digit win seasons between 2014-‘16.

Going through that – as well as dealing with adversity during his first go-round in the WHL – has only further cemented the high-scoring forward’s resolve and determination to end his final season with his hometown team on a good note.

“Early on when I was here, we had some struggles – a couple bad years, but I thought last year we got back on our feet. Making the playoffs was great… and this being my last year, I obviously want to try and win a championship. That’s always the goal – that’s why you play, and we haven’t lost sight of that,” he said.

If nothing else, Westgard – whose father, Chuck, is the team owner and president – is used to dealing with adversity. After slogging through the two aforementioned difficult seasons, Westgard, then 17, left the BCHL for major-junior, joining the Victoria Royals.

However, a serious hand injury limited him to just 23 games over the course of a season and a half. He was traded to the Portland Winterhawks in the 2016/17 season, which prompted him to return home to the Eagles’ nest.

Last season, Westgard – whose WHL rights had since been traded to the Everett Silvertips – joined his new WHL team for two playoff games after Surrey’s season came to an end, before returning to Surrey again for this season.

“It’s always a little nerve-racking when you go to a new team… it’s tough being the new face, but hockey players are great and after a week, you always feel like you’re part of the team,” he said.

Despite bouncing between teams and dealing with injuries, Westgard looks upon his WHL experience as a positive one.

“I had the hand injury… and that was really tough, being out that long. It sucks when you want to be out there so bad but you just can’t,” he said. “But I think overcoming adversity always makes you better. I learned a lot about persistence and just the will to keep competing.

“Victoria was a great organization, too. I had a lot of fun there and met some guys I’ll probably be friends with for life, but it just wasn’t a good fit for me, hockey-wise.”

Now back with the Birds, Westgard – who posted 70 points in 56 games last season – has taken on an even bigger offensive role, helping to make up for the loss of key offensive contributors from last year who have moved on, including top-six forwards, and Semiahmoo Peninsula natives, John Wesley and Jeff Stewart.

“That’s junior – you lose guys every year. I don’t really feel more pressure, but maybe a little more responsibility,” Westgard said. “But everyone chips in, and a lot of the younger guys, it takes a few games to get used to the speed and get your confidence up, and recently some of them have started to put the puck in the net a little bit more.”

Eagles head coach Peter Schaefer – who said Westgard is “naturally gifted” when it comes to offence – said while he’s been impressed with the offensive abilities of not just Westgard, but a handful of veterans including Westgard’s linemate Chase Stevenson, he’s been pushing all of them to contribute even more.

Schaefer admitted that the coaches have leaned a little heavily than expected on said veterans due to the rash of injuries the team has suffered of late.

”Ty’s off to a good start, putting up a lot of numbers, but we’re trying to get him to lead in other ways, too – not only getting points, but not turning over pucks, not taking penalties. We’re trying to get that installed not just in Ty, but in all our leaders,” Schaefer said. “Once we do that, I think we’ll have some success.”

In the meantime, Westgard said he’ll continue to focus on pushing his team to more victories, while trying to soak in every moment along the way.

“It’s been five years and it’s gone by really quick,” he said.

“When you’re younger, everyone said the time goes quickly and you just kind of say, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ But it does fly by. These are supposed to be the best days of your life, so going out on a competitive run or a championship would mean a lot.”

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