As the start of the BC Hockey League season looms – training camps began this week – the Surrey Eagles have been busy adding new faces to the nest.
Earlier this month, the South Surrey-based junior ‘A’ squad brought a ex-player back into the mix, announcing that former defenceman Riley Sweeney (pictured) has joined the team in the dual role of assistant coach, as well as the strength-and-conditioning coach.
Sweeney played for the Birds from 2009-’11 before spending four seasons in the NCAA with Michigan Tech University, where he earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree with a focus on sports and fitness management.
“I’m very happy to be back with Surrey,” Sweeney said in a news release. “It’s an opportunity that I am very fortunate to have received, and I’m really looking forward to the journey that will come.”
As the team’s new strength coach, he’ll be tasked with keeping players in peak form throughout the grind of the regular season.
“I want to keep the players as healthy as possible,” he said. “It’s a long year, and we want to keep the players playing at their full potential every night.”
Sweeney is the second former Eagle to join the coaching staff this offseason, joining Colin Hemingway, who was brought into the fold earlier this year.
Head coach/general manager Blaine Neufeld – who will be entering his third season behind the bench – has continued to shape the on-ice roster, as well, with the summer additions of 19-year-old forward Nick Fea; defenceman Elijah Vilio – who played junior ‘B’ last season in Aldergrove – and 18-year-old Pennsylvania native Tyler Riddle.
Last month, the team also traded for veteran goaltender Marc Audet from the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, sending forward Gunnar Wegleitner the other way.
Audet – who also has major-junior experience with the Quebec League’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan – will be tasked with replacing the Eagles’ former starting netminder, Justin LaForest, who graduated from the junior ranks after last season.
The other new additions were not acquired in trade, but rather by signing with the BCHL team. Fea spent last season with the North Jersey Avalance of the Atlantic Youth Hockey League, an under-18 circuit in the northeast U.S., while Riddle – another American import – also comes from the AYHL; he spent last year with the U18 Philadelphia Jr. Flyers.
The newcomers will join other new signees acquired earlier this summer – Jordan Robert, Jesse Nelson, and Ryan Foley, as well as 20-year-old Darius Davidson, who was re-acquired from the Penticton Vees. Davidson began last season in Surrey but was dealt midway through the season.
In other moves, defenceman Brett Stewart – who played 52 games for the Eagles in 2015/16 – was sent to the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Canmore Eagles via the Penticton Vees, in a three-team trade that returned future considerations to Surrey.
This season, the Eagles will be looking to rebound after the two worst seasons in team history. The team has just 16 wins in the last 116 regular-season games dating back to 2014.
The struggles prompted Chuck Westgard, the team’s co-owner and president, to tell Peace Arch News in March that “everything needs to improve. It has to. There’s not much lower to go, so we need to figure out a way to go up from here.”
The Eagles open the season Sept. 9 with a home game against their Mainland Divison rival Coquitlam Express.