Surrey, BC – In a game woefully short of zest for the most part, the upstart Surrey Eagles did manage to take another step forward on Friday night at the South Surrey Arena. Backed by yet another game-star performance by goaltender Reece Klassen, the surging Eagles knocked off the Chilliwack Chiefs 4-2 for the fifth straight time, guaranteeing the rebuilt B.C. Hockey League team the season series over the long-time Mainland Division powerhouse with the teams already locked into a first-round playoff matchup.
The victory pulled Surrey within four points of the second-place Chiefs, keeping them with at least a mathematical chance of overtaking Chilliwack for second place in the division. The win was Surrey’s third straight, matching its longest winning streak of the season. It also improved their record over the past 10 games to 7-2-1, while Chilliwack slumped to its fifth loss in its past six games.
“There wasn’t a lot of energy to the game, from either team, and it was not a very good atmosphere,” was the forthright acknowledgement of Eagles head coach Cam Keith of a night when the Eagles attracted just slightly more than 300 fans to The Nest. “They had the possession for most of the first period and while we did get some chances they were from random plays. We weren’t playing good hockey,” but then neither were the Chiefs, who looked content just to be taking their shifts for the most part most of the night and rarely applied any sustained pressure in the Surrey zone. “It was a sloppy affair. Both teams played at that level, which meant both goalies were tested, but we scored on our chances, and Reece made the good saves when we needed him to,” added Keith.
After Surrey’s Hassan Akl was assessed a double minor for high sticking in the opening minute, it took Chilliwack more than three minutes with the man advantage to even get a shot on goal. They made it count though, as Minnesota Wild sixth-round draft pick Nikita Nesterenko put a long-distance wrist shot past a screened Klassen. Surrey equalized less than two minutes later when Carter King one-timed a pass from Sean Ramsay past Chilliwack goalie Mathieu Caron.
Two second-period tallies from Surrey more or less decided the issue. A strong rush past a couple of Chilliwack checkers by defenseman Brett Bliss allowed him to carry the puck deep into the Chiefs zone. Bliss then fed it to Adamo Santia in the slot who made a sweet no-look spin-pass to a wide open Wyatt Schlaht at the side of the net for an easy shot into a wide open goal. The eventual game-winner came off the stick of defenseman Kieran O’Hearn who surprised Caron with a heavy and accurate wrist shot from well out.
Schlaht’s second goal of the game, into an empty net sealed the deal, although Chilliwack did get one past Klassen with 18 seconds remaining.
Keith noted there was little to draw from the game as far as the upcoming first-round playoff series is concerned. “It’s good that we won, obviously, so that we’re still in contention to grab second in the division. That’s something for us to keep pushing for. But it was more a case where we got the two points and you move on.”
“That said, we did stay out of the penalty box for the most part, which is a must against that team, and I’ve got to say our confidence as a group is at an all-time high. Everybody’s making plays. That’s what I’m taking out of this. Even though it wasn’t our best effort we showed we can still bear down and make plays to score goals.”
The win did push Surrey’s home record above .500 for the first time this season, and they get a chance to extend it further when the two teams meet again inside the South Surrey Arena on Monday afternoon. Chilliwack first plays on Saturday night in Wenatchee. The Eagles will then wrap up their regular season with a visit to Coquitlam to take on the league-leading Express on Wednesday before playing their final game at home against the Langley Rivermen on Friday. After Monday’s game, Chilliwack wraps up its regular season with a pair of home games against Salmon Arm and Langley.