Not so long ago, nearly half the players on the Surrey Eagles’ roster were birds of a slightly different feather – those of a hawk.
A Valley West Hawk, to be more precise.
And while it’s common for Eagles’ rosters to feature a few locals each year, this season has more than ever – including eight former Valley West Hawks, the BC Major Midget League team that includes players from Surrey, Langley, Cloverdale and White Rock.
Eagles’ veterans Colton Mackie and Michael Stenerson, who both suited up for the Hawks four seasons ago, are the oldest players with ties to the MML squad, while other alums include goaltender Glenn Ferguson, Mason Blacklock, Jordan Klimek, Austen Bietenbeck, Kevan Kilistoff and Stefan Burzan. A ninth Eagle, rookie forward Joel Gaudet, is also a local product, having come up from the Semiahmoo Ravens’ midget A team.
And while the goal of any BC Hockey League team is to ice the best team – regardless of where the players come from – Eagles’ head coach/GM Matt Erhart said, when possible, they go with local talent.
“I think going with locals guys makes sense in a lot of ways, and if we’re able to do it, we always try to,” he said.
“The (major midget) teams here, and teams like the Hawks… they’ve developed some real quality players.”
Other Eagles, including defenceman Devon Toews and Kolten Grieve, have played with other BC MML teams, and Erhart guesses “at least three-quarters of (BCHL) players have played in that league at some point, if they’re from B.C.”
“There’s a connection there. With our schedule, we’re always really busy, but with the midgets playing on weekends, it’s a natural for me to go out during the day before our own games, to watch them play in the afternoon,” the coach explained.
“That way I get to know them, and get to watch them six or seven times a season, instead of just once or twice.”
The Valley West squad has had a number of coaches in recent years – Tom Spencer has been at the helm the last two – but regardless of who is behind the bench, players agree the team, and the league, is a perfect stepping stone between minor hockey and the junior ranks.
“Major midget, it does prepare you very well. It gives you the experience of travelling with your team on a bus, going on road trips, staying in hotels – it gives you an idea of what (junior hockey) is all about,” said Mackie.
Erhart, a former major midget coach himself with the Greater Vancouver Canadians, said his relationships with MML coaches like Spencer help when bringing midget players into the fold, either as full-timers or affiliate players.
Though he’d seen them play in person plenty, two current Eagle rookies, Klimek and Bietenbeck, came highly recommended from Spencer.
“Tom and I have a good relationship. He let’s me know when he’s got a guy I should be taking a look at. They keep me updated, give me access to their players if I need to talk to them. It helps having coaches on the same page as you,” Erhart said.
On the other side of the coin, Spencer said he has no qualms about sending his players on to the Eagles – or other BCHL teams, for that matter.
“Matt does a great job, and I have a lot of confidence in him. I know I’m sending my guys to a great program,” Spencer said.