By Nick Greenizan
A wrist shot from the top of the circle – in overtime, no less – has propelled the Surrey Eagles into the second round of BC Hockey League playoffs.
On Friday night at South Surrey Arena, with the Eagles and Langley Rivermen tied 4-4, forward Matthew Campese took a pass from linemate Ryan Brushett –who, in turn, had recieved a long stretch pass from defenceman Jackson Ross – and fired wrist shot that beat Langley netminder Braeden Fleming, to give the Birds the victory, and a 4-2 best-of-seven series win.
“Honestly, when I got the puck I just wanted to get it on net, and I just hoped for the best,” said Campese, whose goal came just 34 seconds into the extra frame.
The Eagles will have a few days off this week to rest up before travelling north to face their second-round opponents, the Prince George Spruce Kings. Games 1 and 2 are scheduled for Prince George on Friday and Saturday nights, with Games 3 and 4 set for South Surrey on Monday and Tuesday.
And though Campese played the role of hero, he was quick to deflect praise to his teammates – especially goaltender Mario Cavaliere, who stopped 37 of 41 shots on goal.
“Cavs, he played unbelievable,” Campese said after the game, on the team’s official online radio broadcast.
As well, Desi Burgart – who has a four-goal game to his credit in the playoffs already – was responsible for the Eagles’ other three goals, giving him two hat-tricks in the series. He leads the BCHL in playoff scoring with eight goals in six games, and is third in overall points.
“He’s a guy who is just always competing. He’s a 200-foot player who gives his best every night, so I’m not surprised (at his success),” Eagles head coach Brandon West told Peace Arch News Monday.
Chase Danol opened the scoring in the game, just 1:39 into the first period, and Burgart followed less than four minutes later to give the home team an early cushion. The Rivermen, however, battled back quickly, and scored two goals of their own later in the period – off the sticks of John Wojciechowski and Angus Crookshank – before Burgart’s second of the game gave Surrey a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes.
The second period went in much the same way – with Langley knotting the score at 3-3, Surrey again taking a lead – on Burgart’s third – and the Rivermen clawing back to tie it again, this time on a Tanner Versluis tally.
Neither team scored in the third, which set the table for Campese’s winner.
“Whenever you have the chance to eliminate someone, they’re always playing for their lives, so it’s good we came out (with) that start, and good we could end it like that,” he said.
Brushett finished the game with three assists.
The Game 6 victory came on the heels of an 8-5 loss the night before in Langley, which cut into what had been a two-game lead in the series for the Eagles, who are back in the BCHL post-season for the first time since the 2013/14 season.
“It was a great series, and we’re very fortunate (to win it),” said West.
In Game 5, Surrey led 4-3 after 40 minutes, but the game slipped away in the third period as the Rivermen scored five in the third period – including one shorthanded and one power-play marker – to escape with the win.
Five different players scored for the Eagles – Danol, Campese, Aaron White, Jeff Stewart and Brushett.
“Obviously, we were disappointed with the result on Friday night – I thought we had some chances to (win) – so we knew we had to respond in Game 6.”
Despite being just a goal away from the second round – or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, a goal away from having to go back to Langley for Game 7 – West said his group was confident and calm in the dressing room between the end of the third period and the start of the overtime session.
“We came in and the guys were focused, there was a good vibe in the room,” he said.
Now the Birds will prepare for a long-distance series against the Spruce Kings, who finished first in the Mainland Division in the regular season. The Eagles finished 12 points back of their northern rivals, but did win five of eight head-to-head matchups during the season.
Surrey went a perfect 4-0 against them in South Surrey, but won just one of four game in Prince George’s Rolling Mix Concrete Arena.
West, however, wasn’t concerning himself with regular-season statistics – good, bad or otherwise.
“Playoffs are a whole new season, so we don’t look back at any of that stuff,” he said.
“We know it’s going to be fast, and it’s going to be tight – I think it has all the makings of a great series.”