There will be plenty of new faces in Surrey Eagles jerseys when the BC Hockey League kicks off its season in Chilliwack this weekend.
But if the South Surrey-based junior squad is to have success this season, it’ll likely be a result of a strong core of returning players.
“I like what we’ve seen from our returning guys… (they’re) ready to take on more expanded roles,” Eagles head coach/GM Matt Erhart said last month, just prior to training camp, in an online interview with the team’s new director of media relations Brendan Batchelor.
Nine players from last year’s team are back in blue and green this season, most of them forwards as Michael Stenerson, Brandon Morley, Demico Hannoun, Trevor Cameron, Brett Mulcahy and Colton Mackie all return to the nest.
But while the six returnees up front make up half of the Eagles’ four lines, the team will still need to replace a lot of offence. Gone from last year’s team, either via trade or NCAA scholarship, is captain Tyler Morley, Robert Lindores, Alex Hagen, Sean McGovern, Brayden Jaw and Brandon Tanev.
Stenerson, who scored 13 goals last season, is the team’s top returning goal-scorer.
Newcomers among the forward ranks include a strong contingent from back east, including 18-year-old Jake Bannister and six-foot-two, 200-pound Nicolas Pierog, both from Ontario, and Michigan native Drew Best, 18.
Rookie Kevan Killistoff, from Langley, is also on the roster, after having played three games with the Birds last season.
The Eagles’ blue-line is similarly revamped, anchored by returning veterans Devon Toews and Beau Orser, along with Eric Chevrier, who played 26 games in Surrey last year, and 18-year-old Ontario native Brett Seldon, who was acquired this summer from the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s North York Rangers in exchange for McGovern.
To complement that foursome, Erhart – the BCHL’s reigning coach of the year – went big, recruiting a pair of New Jersey-born blue-liners into the mix, six-foot-four Craig Wyszomirski and Yale University commit Dan O’Keefe, who stands six-foot-three.
Two young Langley defencemen – Jordan Klimek, who played eight games last year, and six-foot-three Austen Bietenbeck – will also push for playing time.
“We’re building a good group back there, with some size and skill,” Erhart said.
“Good defence can take you a long way in the playoffs and we’ve had some pretty good defence cores the last two years or so.
“We’ll continue to build from the back-end out.”
The team will have two new faces in net, too, as both of last year’s goaltenders – starter Andrew Hunt and backup Conor Barrie – have moved on. Hunt will play this year in the NCAA, while Barrie was traded to Langley during the off-season.
In their place will be 18-year-old Surrey native Glenn Ferguson, who played Junior ‘B’ last season with the Delta Ice Hawks, and 20-year-old Edward Dyson, who played one game last year with Cowichan Valley but has played the last two seasons in the North American Hockey League, with the Dawson Creek Rage.
“We feel we have a pretty good nucleus here,” Erhart said of his team.
Last year, Surrey advanced to the Coastal Conference finals, losing to Powell River in five games.
They’ll begin their quest for a championship – which would be the team’s first since the 2004/05 season – Friday at 7 p.m., when they play Powell River at Chilliwack’s Prospera Centre.
From Friday to Sunday, all BCHL teams will play in Chilliwack as part of the league’s inaugural BCHL Showcase. Surrey also plays Sunday, at 5:30 p.m., against the West Kelowna Warriors.