Prince George, BC – While it might be that lightning doesn’t strike twice, it’s undeniable that some bolts are bigger than others. The Surrey Eagles struck with a vengeance on Saturday night at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena in Prince George with a 4-1 victory over the host Spruce Kings to, first, complete a weekend sweep following their 4-3 victory on Friday night; second, complete a four-game season sweep of the Spruce Kings in their barn, one of the toughest in the B.C. Hockey League in which to play; third, extend their lead over the fifth-place Spruce Kings to a season-high seven points; and fourth, and most importantly for the only team in the BCHL shut out of the playoffs last season, allow them to not only think of the 2019-20 post-season, but to consider how far they might go when it rolls around in a little more than six weeks time.
Given they now hold a 16-point lead over the BCHL cellar-dwelling Merritt Centennials, it would take a collapse of monumental proportions for Surrey to be on the outside looking in when the regular season ends. Unlikely to say the least. Not only has the league’s youngest teams been more than holding their own the past two months, backstopped by the emergence of goaltender Tommy Scarfone as a clear No. 1 in this league, they also acquired a big chip moving forward at the BCHL trade deadline earlier in the week with the acquisition of 20-year-old, and three-year Western Hockey League veteran, goalie Reece Klassen, a Surrey native to boot.
Scarfone is currently sidelined with a groin injury suffered during the team’s lengthy Christmas break. So Klassen, who met his new teammates for the first time in Prince George after coming over from the Swift Current Broncos, was immediately thrust into the starter’s role in both games and made, to put it mildly, a good first impression.
“He was the best player on the ice this weekend. There’s no doubt about it,” said Eagles head coach Cam Keith, who, not surprisingly, was happy to toss more than a few accolades around when dissecting his team’s back-to-back wins in back-to-back four-point games. “It was by far our biggest weekend of the year up to this point. To win any game in PG is extremely hard, so I’m a very proud coach right now. I don’t think there’s anything specific as to why we were able to go 4-0 up here this season,” he added. “We just played really well every game we played here.”
Returning to his new acquisition, Keith noted, “Reece is just so calming. Any shots from the points he soaks them up, or kicks them into the corners. There’s not a lot of extra scrambles. He’s extremely composed. He’s a 20-year-old veteran who has played at a very high level of hockey.”
A recurring theme for these young Eagles has been secondary scoring. Noted Keith, “We keep saying that we need to get it and [second-line rookie centre] Kenny Riddett’s line was our best line this weekend, by far.” Playing alongside Brandon Santa Juana, the only remaining Eagle from last year’s team, and fellow rookie Carter King—whom Keith praised for having “taken his game to a whole other level”—the unit sparked the attack both nights and were responsible for half the team’s eight goals.
Any team which struggles to score needs goaltending, check, good defense—four goals allowed in two games in a hostile road environment—check, and effective special team, check. Not only did Surrey kill off a four-minute slew-footing double minor to Christian Fitzgerald before the first period was half completed, they also struck for powerplay goals three minutes apart in the middle of the third period which essentially sealed the deal on this night.
“I thought that four-minute penalty kill really set the tone for the game. I don’t think they had a quality chance,” noted Keith. “And I don’t think we really got rewarded for most of the game for some of the hard work that could translate into a powerplay,” he argued, as the two powerplays were his team’s only time skating with the man-advantage. “It almost seemed like the guys were chomping at the bit because when they got out on it, it looked really good. [Defenseman] Brendan Kim was running it up top and it really flowed tonight.”
Given that the Eagles are the youngest team in the league this season they have naturally been subjected to some heavy-handed tactics from some of the more veteran teams in the league. So Keith was also pleased to see “Cade Alami stand up for a teammate,” and White Rock native Buddy Johnson “settle an old score,” which sent them both to early showers with fighting majors. “It was nice to see a little physicality, the guys doing it for the team. That kind of stuff brings your team together as well.”
He singled out the third line of Wyatt Schlaht, Adamo Santia and Fitzgerald. “Even though they didn’t score they put in a lot of hard minutes and wore their D down,” as well as sending some kudos the way of 16-year-old Dylan Fader of Vancouver, an affiliate player who made his BCHL debut on Saturday night. “Dylan’s a real solid prospect for us. We had him all the way through training camp. He is a good 2-way forward who I thought played really well. He was strong along the walls and gave some energy to our fourth line.”
That’s a whole lot of check marks handed out but of course the biggest one relates to the biggest challenge this team faced when their season began in September. Playoffs? Check. “We’re built well now for playoff hockey. I think how we played this weekend was a good example of how we want to play in the playoffs,” said Keith.
The Eagles will attempt to cement that mentality with three road games this week. First up will be a stiff test in Coquitlam against the Mainland Division and league-leading Express on Wednesday, before taking on Interior Division teams West Kelowna and Wenatchee on the weekend.