A little over a week ago – less than 48 hours after his team had been eliminated from BC Hockey League playoffs after a Game 7 loss to Prince George – Surrey Eagles head coach Brandon West was “still pretty fired up” about the way the season ended.
Now, after a few days to decompress and take stock of the season that was, the coach – who just completed his first year with the Birds – realizes just how successful the team’s season was, and how important it was to the organization, considering the team hadn’t made the playoffs in four seasons, and many of those years were spent firmly at the bottom of the league standings, including a seven-win campaign in 2015/16.
The Eagles finished the regular season in third place in the Mainland Division with a record of 26-22-8-2 (win-loss-overtime loss-tie), and defeated the Langley Rivermen in the first round of playoffs before bowing out to the Spruce Kings in Round 2.
“I thought we had a great, great season,” West told Peace Arch News Tuesday.
“To fall short of your goal is never easy to accept. We’ve had some time to reflect on it now, and we’re all still disappointed and frustrated that it’s over, but we can take a lot of positives out of this season and build on them moving forward.
“We went through two really tough series – we played 13 playoff games, and that’s a lot of experience for the guys who are coming back. We’re going to take every bit of experience and try and learn from it.”
THANK YOU for the memories to our graduating 20-year-olds: Connor Sundquist, Johnny Wesley, Jackson Ross, Mario Cavaliere, and Matthew Campese. It was a year we will never forget. pic.twitter.com/p1HssTcZdu— Surrey Eagles (@SurreyEagles) March 26, 2018
Though the second-round series with the Spruce Kings ended with the Eagles’ giving up a 3-1 series lead, West remained steadfast in his belief that it could easily be his team still playing, had a few more bounces gone their way in Game 7, which Surrey lost 4-0.
“I think our Game 7, we played really well. It was a 1-0 game until about three, four minutes left. We just weren’t able to cash in on our opportunities, but the game could’ve went either way until the very end.”
Regardless of the outcome, West was still impressed with how his players – almost all of which had no playoff experience prior to this season – handled the game.
“We’re playing Game 7 in front of a sold-out crowd in Prince George, and we never played nervous, we didn’t have any jitters. We enjoyed the moment,” he said.
“The disappointment everyone feels right now is because we all felt like we had a chance to win it all. But I’m very proud of our group – this was an outstanding playoff run.”
The regular season wasn’t bad either. For the first time since the championship season in 2012/13, the Eagles had a winning record, and it was buoyed by a handful of impressive individual performances.
For much of the season, 20-year-0ld forward John Wesley led the BCHL in goals, and he ended up in a three-way tie for first by season’s end, with 37. His linemate, fellow 20-year-old Ty Westgard, finished third in league scoring with 70 points and was second in assists, with 55.
As well, a handful of players earned NCAA scholarships for next year, including Desi Burgart, Chase Danol, Jackson Ross and Connor Sundquist. West said a few more players could be college-bound before the end of spring.
When he spoke to PAN, West was at South Surrey Arena, at one point pacing the team’s locker room, going player stall by player stall, making a mental checklist of who would be back next year and who wouldn’t be.
In total, about half of this year’s roster won’t be back for training camp in the fall – the team is in “full on scouting and recruiting” mode right now, West said – though West was confident they’d be able to ice a strong roster for next year, too.
It may be hard to duplicate this year’s team, however, considering West called the group “as tight as any team I’ve ever been a part of.”
He credits the players for that closeness – which he said he noticed as early as training camp – and suggested it will serve the organization well into the future as it looks to distance itself from the struggles of previous years.
“They set the standard right in camp, right from the get-go,” West said.
“The group that’s been here for quite a few years… they’re leaving the team in a better place than where it was when they arrived.”