The Surrey Eagles haven’t wasted any time notching their first victory of the new BC Hockey League season, winning their season-opener Friday night at South Surrey Arena – a dramatic 5-4 overtime win over the division rival Langley Rivermen.
And not only did the South Surrey squad start the season on a winning note – a stark contrast to last season, which saw them start the year with six straight losses – but they picked up another point Sunday, after tying the visiting Coquitlam Express 2-2.
“Anytime you can get three out of four points, you’ll take it,” said Eagles head coach Brandon West.
“It’s a positive way to start the season… I’ve been on teams that have missed the playoffs by one point – points at the beginning of the season are so crucial, and that’s something we’ve stressed to the guys.”
It’s the first time since the 2013/14 campaign that the Eagles won their first game of the season, and it’s also the first time in at least 15 seasons – archived standings on the BCHL’s website only go back to 2003 – that the team has went undefeated on season-opening weekend.
“(It was) a great opening weekend for us,” said Eagles’ general manager Blaine Neufeld.
Friday night’s win was no easy feat, however, as the home team, playing in front of an announced crowd of 1,201 – just 70 fans short of a sellout, according to Neufeld – fell behind Langley early, and were forced to play catch-up in the middle period.
The Rivermen got on the board first less than three minutes into the game, when a Trevor St. Jean shot beat Daniel Davidson, and the visitors doubled their lead less than 10 minutes later on a goal from Brendan Budy.
Despite trailing heading into the first intermission, the Eagles bounced back in the second frame, though not before giving up one more goal to go down 3-0 just 4:04 into the period. In the final seven minutes of the second, Surrey went on the offensive, scoring three times – including twice on the power play – to tie the game at 3-3.
Defenceman Domenic Masellis was the first Bird to bulge the twine behind Langley keeper Braedon Fleming, and his goal was followed by markers just 1:16 apart, from forwards Desi Burgart and John Wesley.
“The guys were nervous, they were excited, maybe it was a bit of home-opener jitters, but we got caught in quicksand right away,” West explained.
“But in the intermission, that’s when our veteran leaders kind of spoke up, and we went out there and played (better) and kind of took over (in the second).
“I thought we played well. We had some breakdowns – it’s September hockey – but I think we played a good structured game.”
The two rivals traded goals in the third, with Budy scoring for the Rivermen and Burgart notching his second of the season for Surrey, and it was the newest member of the team, forward Ryan Brushett – acquired in the middle of last week from the Vernon Vipers – who played the role of hero, scoring the overtime-winner at the 1:41 mark of the sudden-death extra frame.
The Eagles held the Rivermen without a shot on goal in the overtime period, though they were outshot 35-28 overall.
Davidson, who stopped 31 shots Friday, was back between the pipes Sunday afternoon against the Express, too, and again stopped 31 shots to help his team secure a single point.
The Eagles peppered Coquitlam with 44 shots in the game, though as was the case Friday, they again fell behind early when Coquitlam scored the only goal of the first period, at the 16:22 mark.
The lead was shortlived, however, thanks to Wesley, who scored once in the second to tie the game, then scored again midway through the third to give the home side the lead.
Surrey’s slim lead lasted until the final three minutes of the game, when Coquitlam’s Christian Bosa – a Langley native and former Valley West Hawks forward – scored to tie the game.
Neither overtime frame – four-on-four nor three-on-three – solved anything, despite the teams combining for 11 shots on net.
Despite not winning the game, “we really outplayed them,” Neufeld told Peace Arch News.
The Eagles will look to improve upon their record on the road this weekend, as the team travels north to Prince George for a pair of games against the Spruce Kings.
The following week is the BCHL Showcase, which will see the Eagles take on the Salmon Arm Silverbacks – West’s old team – on Sept. 21, followed by a Sept 24 game against the Trail Smoke Eaters, who will have former Valley West Hawks head coach Jessie Leung behind the bench as an assistant.
Both games will be played at Chilliwack’s Prospera Centre.