Vernon, BC – Following the departure of their leading scorer to the Western Hockey League, Surrey Eagles head coach Cam Keith put the spotlight on goaltending, the penalty-kill and the powerplay as the key elements he would be looking for from his young B.C. Hockey League team moving forward. After the Eagles skated out of Vernon’s Kal Tire Place with a 4-3 victory over the Vipers on Friday night, it was, according to Keith, “Check, check, check. That was the difference tonight.”
Eagles goalie Tommy Scarfone kept his team in the game through the first 40 minutes when the Vipers had a 29-13 advantage in shots on net. While the Eagles’ surging penalty kill numbers (nearing top 5 in the BCHL) had another blank slate with three kills in as many attempts, the powerplay went two-for-three, including the game-winner off the stick of Cristophe Tellier with 3:38 remaining in the game. Surrey did outshoot the Vipers 10-8 in the third period.
The goal was Tellier’s second of the game after he opened the scoring midway through the opening frame. Brandon Santa Juana and Brett Bliss had the other Surrey goals. Santa Juana’s powerplay goal late in the second period drew the Eagles even at 2-2. Bliss’s marker propelled the Eagles into their second lead of the night at 13:44 of the third and was of the flukey variety as he took a pass at the blueline and let it go almost in one motion in what Keith called “a punch shot”. It bounced off the back of a Viper defender who was tangled up checking an Eagles forward in front of the net. Vernon’s Matt Kowalski’s fine individual effort a mere eight seconds brought Vernon back even at 3-3, setting the stage for Tellier’s late-game heroics.
“Tommy obviously made some real big saves early in the first that kept us in it. That was a big part of the win. I don’t think we can recuperate the same unless he keeps it close,” Keith said of his number one goalie. “I thought the second period was pretty even. I thought the Grade A opportunities were pretty equal. They had more shots but they were from the outside. But pucks on the net, that’s another thing we struggle with. Even in the first period, when we didn’t play that great, we probably played even with them in the first 10 minutes but we wasted a lot of opportunities to simplify and put pucks on the net.”
The game marked the Eagles debut of talented defenseman Brendan Kim, who was picked up earlier this week from the Vipers in exchange for future considerations. Kim, a two-year BCHL defenseman, was acquired to provide more experience along the blueline, as well as to help provide offensive help, another factor Keith has repeatedly made mention of as his team continues to recover from a poor month of October which saw them fall into the Mainland Division basement.
“I wanted more experience back there,” said Keith. “We’re still pretty young on the back end. [Owen] Nolan, Bliss and [Cade] Alami are all still rookies so it’s nice to have an older guy who can calm things down.” The addition of Kim also allowed Keith to move the smooth skating J.J. Fecteau back up front. Fecteau, a 20-year-old rookie, came into training camp as a forward but quickly found himself playing regularly as a defenseman.
“We need them [defensemen] to activate because we don’t have enough scoring punch. That’s another reason we brought in Kim because we need that fourth guy as part of the offense,” said Keith. “So now they’re starting to trust it. It was a good game for Kieran [O’Hearn, three assists], and it was a good game for Bliss as well. He created a lot of scoring opportunities and could have had a few. Hopefully the other guys will be up to it as well. But Kim is probably the most skilled guy we have on our back end now.”
The Eagles continue their weekend Interior Division road swing on Saturday night when they pay a visit to Cominco Arena to take on the Trail Smoke Eaters, who have climbed near the top of the division after a very slow start to their season. For Keith, who spent two seasons as head coach of the Smokies, it will be his first time as the opposing head coach in one of B.C.’s most storied hockey towns.
“It should be fun,” he predicted, before noting, “It will definitely be a challenge for us. Other than [Mainland Division and overall BCHL leaders] Coquitlam they probably have the best offensive group in the entire league,” led by runaway BCHL scoring leader Kent Johnson.
The game will also be the fourth of eight straight games on the road for Surrey, who next weekend head to the Island for three games in three days.