As the Surrey Eagles look to break a stretch of four seasons without a playoff appearance, team brass has found themselves in uncharted territory these past few weeks, as the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s trade deadline inches closer.
The deadline for all Canadian junior ‘A’ clubs to make deals is Wednesday night, and for the first time since the team’s BC Hockey League championship run five years ago – which saw them advance all the way to the RBC Cup national championship – the Eagles find themselves as “buyers” in the trade market, rather than a team looking to deal away older players with an eye toward building for the future.
Since the Eagles’ 2012/13 league title, they have just one playoff appearance – a first-round exit in 2014 – to their credit. This year, however, the Birds are third in the BCHL’s Mainland Division with a record of 20-14-4-2 (win-loss-overtime loss-tie), are just four points out of first place and appear poised for a post-season return under first-year coach Brandon West.
“We’re in a different position here now, for sure – an exciting position,” Eagles general manager Blaine Neufeld told Peace Arch News Friday.
“This year, we’re certainly buyers if the opportunity comes up, but we aren’t going to make lateral moves just for the sake of it. But if something comes up that makes sense for us, we’ll certainly look at it.”
Neufeld has been with the team as head coach/GM over the previous playoff-less seasons, but having to worry only about front-office duties this season and last summer – while West handles the bench – has helped put the team in the current position they’re in, he explained. The singular role gave him more time to recruit, and by that token, the current deadline has been made easier because he hasn’t had to double as coach.
Recruiting in the summer, that’s where you win in this league. We did a lot of it in the summer and we were happy with how things went, but then we didn’t quite hit the (win) numbers we were expecting to hit in the early going of the season, and I think people were probably questioning our moves a bit,” he explained.
“But then we were able to turn it around in October, and I think we’re in a good position now.”
The summer was when the team was able make what has turned out to be one of the best acquisitions of the year by any team – bringing back veteran forward John Wesley, who leads the BCHL in scoring. While Neufeld might be hard-pressed to make a deadline deal of that magnitude – trade chatter around the league was “pretty quiet” last week,” he said – he is open to any and all opportunities.
“Whatever comes along,” he said, asked if he had any specific trade targets.
Last week, the Coquitlam Express made a pair of deals, and on the weekend, the Penticton Vees announced they’d acquired one player via trade while welcoming another former Vee back from the NCAA, but no other moves had been announced by BCHL teams by PAN press time.
The last time the Eagles found themselves in this situation at the deadline – during the 2013 run to the RBC Cup – the team made quite a splash, with then-coach/GM Matt Erhart acquiring future NHL draft pick Adam Tambellini for the Vernon Vipers in exchange for Semiahmoo Minor Hockey product Mason Blacklock and “future considerations.” Once the team’s season ended, those futures turned out to be rather significant – a pair of 17-year-olds, forward Demico Hannoun and defenceman Jordan Klimek, both of whom went on to NCAA careers.
Tambellini, meanwhile, scored 26 points in just 16 regular season games for Surrey, and added 18 more points during the BCHL playoffs, helping the team to a Fred Page Cup title.
So far this season, Neufeld has made a few moves, adding goaltender Nic Tallarico, who had been released by the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, while also acquiring forward Matthew Campese from the West Kelowna Warriors.
And should this year’s deadline pass without any further moves, Neufeld said he’s content to stand pat.
“It’s not a stressful time for us. It might be for some teams this time of year, but for us… we’re very content with the group we have right now, and if we go the rest of the season with this group, I’m happy with that.”