Garrett James photo                                Surrey Eagles forward Ty Westgard will be one of the team’s key returning players this season, as the team looks to improve on last year’s season.

Garrett James photo Surrey Eagles forward Ty Westgard will be one of the team’s key returning players this season, as the team looks to improve on last year’s season.

Surrey Eagles aim to improve on last season as new BCHL campaign begins

Last spring’s playoff loss still lingers, but focus is now on winning championship, GM says

The Surrey Eagles are turning the page on last season, which despite being one of the most successful in recent years, still ended on a sour note – with a Game 7 loss to Prince George in the second round of the playoffs.

The Eagles led that best-of-seven series 3-1 before letting it slip away. But instead of dwelling on it, members of the BC Hockey League squad are focusing on the positive – the two-round post-season appearance was the team’s first foray into the playoffs in four seasons – and are aiming to build on that success.

That quest begins this weekend, when the team – which finished last season with a 26-22-8 record (win-loss-overtime loss) – opens its BCHL regular-season schedule Friday night (Sept. 7) at South Surrey Arena against the Coquitlam Express, and Saturday against Wenatchee Wild.

The team will head into the 2018-19 with Peter Schaefer as head coach, after Brandon West stepped down from the position on Aug. 28, well into the team’s preseason.

“He (West) kind of caught us off-guard with that,” team GM Blaine Neufeld said Friday, “and we thought everything was moving forward the way we hoped, but he let us know that it wasn’t something he was going to get behind and wouldn’t be the guy here.

“We thought he did a good job last year and helped with the recruiting of guys this year, with a bit more of a say in that,” Neufeld added about West, who’s from the Kelowna area and stepped down for personal reasons.

Promoting Schaefer to bench boss was “the most natural fit,” Neufeld said, especially so late in the game.

“He got to know the guys over the past couple of weeks. He’s been in the position before here, has the experience.… It made the most sense.”

• SEE ALSO: Surrey Eagles change coaches a week from season start; Schaefer in, West out.

On Aug. 30, the Eagles announced the hiring of Brad Tobin as an assistant coach as a part of Schaefer’s staff.

Tobin, 29, previously served as an assistant in Surrey from 2010to 2016 before leaving for the Creston Valley Thunder Cats of the Kootenay junior league, first serving as an assistant, then head coach and general manager.

During his playing career, Tobin spent four years in the Pacific Junior Hockey League and KIJHL as a defenceman with North Delta Devils and Columbia Valley Rockies.

“I’m very excited to be given the opportunity to come back and work with Peter Schaefer once again,” Tobin said in a statement posted to the Eagles’ website. “It’s been a whirlwind 24 hours. I definitely took some time to think about the offer. At the end of the day, I couldn’t say no to coming back to the BCHL and working with players that are getting recognized at the National Hockey League level.”

Looking ahead, Neufeld said the team’s focus this season is simple: Win the league championship.

“That’s a lofty goal for some but I think we’ve positioned ourselves to do that,” he said. “The playoff experience, that was nice to have back in South Surrey. We have a lot of firepower, and our defence and goaltending is more sound this year, and we’re expecting big things.”

• SEE ALSO: Former Surrey Eagles reflect on 20-year anniversary of RBC Cup title

This year’s squad will look markedly different than last year’s group that ended the franchise’s postseason drought.

Gone from last year’s club are a handful of forwards who drove the team’s offence, including former leading goal-scorer John Wesley, his linemate Desi Burgart and longtime Birds forward – and Semiahmoo Minor Hockey alum – Jeff Stewart.

Ryan Brushett, who scored 21 goals and added 49 points, is also gone, having been dealt back to the Vernon Vipers – where he played in 2016/17 – while depth forward Chase Danol and defenceman Cory Babichuk were also traded in the offseason, and a handful of newcomers were acquired, including forward Eric Linell and veteran goalie Seth Eisele, formerly of the Coquitlam Express and Wenatchee Wild, respectively.

Key blue-liners Owen Norton and Jackson Ross have also graduated from the BCHL into the NCAA.

One key member of the offence who is back in the fold is Ty Westgard, a Semiahmoo Peninsula native who last year centred the team’s top line with Wesley and Burgart. He finished the 2017/18 campaign as the Birds’ leading scorer, with 15 goals and 70 points in 56 games.

Westgard and other returnees will likely be counted on heavily, especially in the early parts of the season as the team looks to gel and forge a new identity.

Though last year’s squad had no trouble putting the puck into their opponents’ net – they were the highest scoring team in the Mainland Division – they struggled at times keeping it out of their own, which led to some high-scoring affairs. Only six BCHL teams gave up more goals last year than the 208 Surrey allowed. The goaltending tandem of Eisele and Daniel Davidson will be counted on to help improve that stat for the Eagles this season.

– with files from Tom Zillich

BCHLSurrey Eagles

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sources team members (left to right) Carrie Belanger, Abby Gemino, Tatiana Belyaeva, Yasmin de Joya-Pagal cheer during the 2020 Coldest Night of the Year event. This year’s event will be virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sources photo)
White Rock’s Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser goes virtual

Annual walk raises funds for variety of Sources programs and services

An Amica White Rock resident receives the COVID-19 vaccine during a Jan. 15, 2021 clinic. (Tracy Holmes photo)
PHOTOS: South Surrey seniors grateful for ‘freedom’ of COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccination clinics at Fraser Health long-term and assisted-living sites were to wrap up Jan. 15

Surrey Council Chambers. (File photo)
Surrey city councillors complain not enough public input in committees

City has gone ‘exactly the opposite direction,’ Councillor Brenda Locke charges

(Photo by Kevin Hill)
40 cases linked to Surrey Memorial Hospital COVID-19 outbreak

Fraser Health says two death are associated with the outbreak

A Transit Police officer and another driver were injured on Nov. 4 in a traffic crash while the officer was responding to another officers call for help catching a man who escaped custody. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Police watchdog investigating Surrey crash that injured transit cop, another driver

Crash happened 11 p.m. Nov. 4, at 128th Street and 93rd Avenue in Cedar Hills

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: B.C. man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Most Read