It’s been said that you can’t go home again, but Surrey Eagles forward John Wesley is proving that idiom to be patently false.
For proof, one need only to compare the White Rock native’s current season to his first go-round with his hometown team.
These days, the affable Semiahmoo Minor Hockey product is enjoying his final season of junior hockey – he leads the BC Hockey League in goals and is top-10 in overall points; he’s found great chemistry with linemates Ty Westgard and Desi Burgart; and he’s helped lead the Eagles to a resurgent season that has seen them hover around or above the .500 mark for much of the first two months of the season – which is a far cry from the team’s record during Wesley’s first tour of duty with the Semiahmoo Peninsula junior ‘A’ club.
As a 17-year-old BCHL rookie during the 2014/15 season, Wesley – who came into the season with one game of major-junior experience under his belt, with the Vancouver Giants – played 32 games for the Eagles, scoring 21 points. And while those offensive numbers were certainly respectable for any young player, the team struggled mightily, and would finish in the basement of the BCHL with only nine wins.
Wesley, however, wasn’t there at the end of that year, having left for a second crack at the Western Hockey League after, in January of that season, his WHL rights were dealt from the Giants to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, who wanted him on their roster immediately.
“I remember the day. I was injured at the time, and sitting up in the stands (at South Surrey Arena) when I got a call from the GM (in Lethbridge). He said I was getting shipped out the next morning. So I packed up all my stuff right away and was out the next day,” Wesley recalled.
This season is actually Wesley’s third time with the Eagles – he returned to the team in 2015/16 after his half-season with the Hurricanes came to an end.
“We had some tough seasons, back when I was here before, but it’s really exciting to see where we are now,” Wesley told Peace Arch News.
Wesley has good reason for his optimism and excitement, and though he has seen his junior career bounce him between three different teams multiple times, he said being able to have success with the team he grew up watching would be special.
“I grew up watching the Surrey Eagles, so it was always a dream of mine to play here. When I was younger, I always wore my Semiahmoo jersey to the games because you got a free ticket, and it was always such a fun experience,” he said. “To make the playoffs here would be super exciting.”
In fact, Wesley admits that leading any squad to the post-season – childhood favourite or not – is a goal he has long been chasing.
“The last time I was in the playoffs was when I was 16 years old, playing junior ‘B’ in Richmond, so it’s been awhile,” he said.
“We lost that year in Game 7 of the finals… it was a heartbreaker. The playoffs is something that’s been in my head for awhile, and I want it really bad.
“I know we have the team to do it.”
While this year’s Eagles team boasts far more scoring depth than the previous editions of the squad – head coach Brandon West has frequently spoke of the importance of being a “four-line team” – Wesley, Westgard and Burgart have been the ones leading the charge. All three are in the top-20 in BCHL scoring, and have been playing as a trio since the second week of the season.
“Desi and Ty are unbelievable linemates. Westgard is an unbelievable passer and just makes great plays out there. Desi and I are the finishers so we just have to put those pucks in the net,” Wesley said.
“The first game we were together, I think we put up three or four goals and since then, we’ve been hard to stop.”
While forward lines frequently change throughout the season – especially as injuries hit and rosters require juggling – West has kept the group together. He said it was a staff decision during an early-season meeting that put the three together on one line.
“We’ve tried some guys in different spots, but we were struggling to score goals at the beginning of the year, so we sat down as a staff and had a meeting about what we wanted to see from each line,” the coach said.
“(Wesley) is a fierce competitor and he’s a guy who is a threat to score every time he’s on the ice, just because of his pure determination. He’s one of the best pure goal-scorers I’ve ever been associated with, and he’s really a driving force in our offence.
“Right from the get-go… that line has really done a lot of damage for us.”
Not only has he become comfortable with his linemates, the well-travelled Wesley also admits part of his hot start to the year comes from knowing this is where he’s likely to stay right until the end of the season. Aside from last season, during which he played 47 games for the Giants, Wesley has never stuck with just one team from Game 1 through the end of the season.
That adversity and experience – from the tough rookie season in Surrey to bouncing between the WHL and BCHL – has only helped him improve, he added.
“You learn that you’ve just got to keep pushing,” he said.
“You just have to trust the process, and things will work out for you.”
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