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Surrey Eagles ‘optimistic’ despite missing playoffs

Re-positioning may occur within organization: team president
The Surrey Eagles missed the playoffs for the third straight season

More changes will be coming to the Surrey Eagles’ nest, as the team looks to build on a season in which the team doubled its win total from the season before but still failed to qualify for BC Hockey League playoffs for a third year in a row.

The Birds finished the year with a record of 18-36-4-0 (win-loss-overtime loss-tie), which was good enough for fifth-place in the six-team Mainland Division – the first time in three seasons they didn’t finish last. However, they finished 16 points shy of the final Mainland playoff berth, and also missed snagging a crossover spot in the Interior-division playoff bracket by 14 points, though the gap was much closer until the final week of the season.

Despite being on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, team president Chuck Westgard was encouraged by the steps the team made.

“We had more wins this year… more than the last two seasons combined. So if you’re looking at moving in the right direction, that’s a step,” he said.

“We enhanced our roster quite substantially, and we have a lot of players who will be returning next season… Don’t get me wrong – we’re not happy with 18 wins and missing the playoffs. But you have to look at the positives when you’re coming off seasons of seven and nine wins before that.

“This time last year, I wasn’t talking a lot about optimism.”

At that time – just weeks after the Eagles wrapped up a seven-win campaign – Westgard, in an end-of-season interview with Peace Arch News, expressed frustration and dissatisfaction with results of the previous two years – both on and off the ice – and declared that a full-scale, top-to-bottom review would take place.

By the beginning of the just-completed season, a handful of new players had been brought in, as well as new assistant coaches to work alongside head coach/general manager Blaine Neufeld. Then, in early October, veteran BCHL bench boss Rick Lanz – who had spent much of the last decade as an NHL scout – was added to the staff.

A similar management and coaching shakeup may be in the works again, Westgard said Tuesday.

Westgard stopped short of making an official announcement, but said talks within the organization are ongoing with regard to a restructuring of the front office and coaching ranks.

“We don’t know yet how that will shake out, but there will be changes moving forward. Maybe not changes – there won’t be people leaving – but maybe a repositioning, to try and strengthen our team,” he said.

When asked if that meant dividing up the coach and general-manager roles, Westgard said, “You got it.”

Neufeld wasn’t behind the bench for the last seven games this season, leaving head-coaching duties to Lanz.

“We’re looking at that because there’s been a lot of pressure and a lot of responsibility on one guy,” Westgard continued. “We haven’t made any decisions yet, but they are coming.”

Neufeld could not be reached by PAN press deadline Thursday.

Another change for next season will be in regard to the Eagles’ schedule. This season, the team played most home games on Thursday nights – as opposed to traditional weekend dates – but Westgard said the schedule will likely revert back to Friday night and Sunday home games next season.

“It was a little bit of an experiment… in a lot of ways it worked, and in some it didn’t,” Westgard said. “I think, moving forward, you’ll see our home games back to the status quo of Friday nights and Sundays. I’m looking forward to it.”

North Delta move nixed

The Eagles won’t be getting a new neighbour, after all.

The proposed relocation of the West Kelowna Warriors to North Delta’s Sungod Arena was called off, the Warriors announced March 4.

Team owner Mark Cheyne had been looking to sell the team, but plans to move ended when, according to BCHL communications director Brent Mutis, Cheyne found “local partners in that community that will help him shoulder the finances and allow him to keep the team there.”

A press release issued by the BCHL Monday said reports of the team’s impending move to North Delta were “unfounded.” However, league commissioner John Grisdale told PAN in January that relocation had been discussed at the league meetings.

“It’s at the stage where there is interest and we’re having discussions – all that is correct,” Grisdale said.