The Surrey Eagles went through the entire 2018-19 B.C. Hockey League season without a single winning streak. That was then, and turning to the this is now the 2019-20 Eagles put paid to that dubious mark on the opening weekend of the season after coming from behind to defeat the Prince George Spruce Kings 4-3 in overtime on Saturday night.
What makes the achievement even more significant is that the Eagles second win in a row came on the road against the defending Fred Page Cup (BCHL) and Doyle Cup (B.C.-Alberta) champions.
To sweeten the pot just a bit, the winning goal came just 28 seconds in the 3-on-3 extra period and was scored by Holden Katzalay, as he popped home a rebound off a shot from defenseman and captain Cody Schiavon. The two, along with Brandon Santa Juana, are the only returnees from last season’s team.
Eagles assistant coach and general manager Brad Tobin bore frontline witness to Surrey’s woes last season. Asked to comment on the back-to-back wins (Surrey took down the defending champs 4-2 in the teams’ season-opener Friday night), an obviously delighted Tobin replied, “It’s like a breath of fresh air! There’s definitely belief in this room, already. It’s fun to be apart of and too see where it goes from here.”
Asked to explain the rapid turnaround in the team’s fortunes, Tobin said, “Honestly, I think it goes right back to the recruiting process in the summer, when we were trying to find the right character kids to bring into the program. The team is jelling pretty quickly, and I think us having this road trip up to Prince George early in the year helped build that.”
Cristophe Tellier in the first period, and Adamo Santia in the second period, twice put Surrey ahead, each with their second goals in as many games. Then a controversial penalty call put the Eagles in a hole. It took a long huddle by the referees before they assessed defenceman Owen Nolan a five-minute major for hitting from behind after Prince George’s Chong Min Lee was sent sprawling to the ice. “It was an accidental collision and a completely unnecessary call,” said Eagles head coach Cam Keith, of the hit which happened away from the play late in the second period, and will likely result in a suspension for the one of the team’s top recruits. Surrey in fact was assessed the first five of the six penalties in the game.
Lee in fact scored just 34 seconds into the ensuing powerplay to draw the Spruce Kings even, although Surrey managed to survive Nolan’s penalty by just giving up just the one goal. The home team then took the lead shortly after the major expired in the third period before Surrey defenceman Brett Bliss pulled Surrey even with a seeing-eye bullet from the blueline late in the period.
Said Keith, “The boys showed a lot of character, and never wavered, especially in the third period,” when Prince George outshot Surrey 12-3, although much of that gap came about because of the powerplay to open the third. “You have to tip your cap to both of our goalies, too. Last night [Thomas] Scarfone made some big some saves down the stretch and controlled his rebounds, when we really needed him. Then Cal Schell came in tonight and did the exact same thing. They were tremendous, both of them.
“I think we’re riding a high, especially the guys who last year had a lot of non-success. The positivity from the other kids has been a blessing. Taking four points from the defending champs is a great way to start the season.”
To add a bit of icing to the cake, the Eagles dressed associated players Holden Cardinal and Christian Fitzgerald as the pre-season left the team with five injured players, although Keith is hopeful at least a couple of them will be in the lineup for the home-opener on Friday night when the Coquitlam Express pay a visit to South Surrey Arena.