The Surrey Eagles have named Linden Saip as the interim head coach, and have hired former Campbell River Storm head coach and general manager Lee Stone as an assistant coach. Peter Schaefer has officially been relieved of his duties.
“We’re all very excited,” Saip told SurreyEagles.ca “The task is going to be large, but we have the right guys surrounding this group. There’s a lot of experience here, both coaching and playing. For the players, it’s nice to know there’s a committed group in the coach’s office.”
Saip, 27, takes the reigns as head coach in his second season with the team. A former Eagles player, he appeared in 81 games as a defenceman from 2010-2012. He also had a lengthy Western Hockey League career, appearing in almost 150 games with the Vancouver Giants and Kamloops Blazers – as well as 60 games of USports hockey with the UBC Thunderbirds. As an assistant coach last season, he was an integral part of the Eagles making their most successful playoff run in recent memory.
“I think it all comes down to culture,” Saip said, detailing his plan to get the team back on track. “We need to re-establish what this organization is all about. What our team is about, how we want to play. The staff, ownership, management – we’re all on the same page on how we want this organization to be run now. I think it’s already starting to show.”
Associate coach Brad Tobin will now be accompanied by Lee Stone, who immediately steps into his new role. During Stone’s six-year tenure with the VIJHL’s Campbell River Storm, they won three league championships and appeared in the Cyclone Taylor Cup four times. Stone, a Surrey native, also sports a career .750 winning percentage at the junior ‘B’ level.
“I think Lee is going to be excellent,” said Saip about his new staff member. “He’s a player’s coach and he’s going to hold guys accountable. I’ve gotten to know him over the last few days and I’m ecstatic that he’s joining our group.”
“He’s a hard-worker. He’s probably never going to leave the rink, from what I hear. He’s exactly what we’ve been missing: A dedicated guy that is able to stay out and work with players, and a different voice for our forward group.”
The 30-year-old Stone has BCHL playing experience as well, appearing in three games with the Merritt Centennials in 2008-09, and played collegiately for Arizona State University in 2009-2010.
“I’m super excited to be involved,” Stone said, speaking to SurreyEagles.ca about his new position. “It’s exciting to see that we’re all on the same page. We all want to right the ship and get back in the win column consistently. I think we have the right group here now, and the dressing room. I’m excited to get going.”
It wasn’t an easy decision for Stone to leave Campbell River, a community in which he lived in for six years, but an opportunity to coach in his hometown of Surrey was too good to pass up.
“It was tough getting in the car and driving out of Campbell River. It was strange, no question, but to have an opportunity now with my home town team – I don’t think you can draw it up better than that.”
All players react to a coaching change differently, but the mood in the Eagles dressing room is positive. The team has played some of their best hockey as of late, and have praised coach Saip for both his professionalism and hard work at practice.
“I think the team needed a boost,” assistant captain Cody Schiavon said. “It’s always tough to see someone go, but that’s a part of the sport. Hopefully we can take it as a bit of a wake-up call and are able to take the next step because of it.”
“Linden has been a part of our team for a while now, he’s very familiar with this group. He brings a lot of experience, both playing and coaching, so it will be a smooth transition and everyone in the room is looking forward to it.”
Defenceman Matthew Barnes echoed Schiavon’s sentiments:
“We’re all looking forward to Linden taking over the head coach position. I think his energy level is the biggest thing, and he has a great system structure for us out on the ice. The guys just needed a fresh start.”
After a poor start, the Eagles are now focused on turning things around quickly. There’s half a season left, and the race for the playoffs begins now in the minds of the Eagles players and coaching staff.
“I think there’s a lot of time left, by no means are we out of the playoff hunt,” said Saip. “Once we get a few more guys back in our lineup, which is happening soon, things are going to click. Without a doubt, guys believe in here that we will be playing playoff hockey and anything can happen in the playoffs. We just have to commit to the process and commit every single day.”
“The staff is ready to put everything they have into it, and we expect the same from our players.”