I didn't manage to get any stray opinions up in a timely manner on any of Surrey's three games previous to this one -- and if I don't get a chance to jot these things down quickly the games just fade together in my memory. But if you really want to know what I thought of them, just read the official summaries and you'll get the gist. I did write those too of course, and while they're not as opinion-heavy as the blog pieces, what is sports reporting if not opinion masquerading as fact?
Last Wednesday's win was terribly exciting, as Joe Drapluk netted the winner 12 seconds into OT after getting the crowd to lean in on the edge of their seats numerous times through the game -- hitting a post, and drawing a penalty on a partial break -- before finally potting one. But enough about happier games. This one did not leave much to smile about when it was done:
- I mentioned it in the official recap of this game several times, and I'm not just being punny. For a Thanksgiving Sunday game, this one was an absolute turkey, and Surrey's effort was largely absent in key moments of the game, such as: the beginning; and also: the end. The middle-frame wasn't a bad one, at least as far as converting on scoring chances go, but they still allowed 21 shots against in the second despite outscoring the Smoke Eaters 3-1 in the period.
- Because the game plan for a game like this is not complicated. The message in the pre-game interview was exactly the same as what Head Coach Blaine Neufeld told me before the previous Sunday's 3-1 win over the Rivermen, another Sunday afternoon contest against a team playing the third game of three-in-three. Take it to them early. Put in a huge effort right out of the gate to set them reeling, because they will only fade and get more and more tired as the game rolls along. Neither of those things happened: the Eagles were largely absent in the first period, and Trail showed no signs of fatigue in the third. You simply can not be the more tired club against a team with a heavy schedule when you've been off since Wednesday. That's just not acceptable.
- And yet, I understand it. It's Thanksgiving weekend, and the fatigue effects of family dinners and turkey's tryptophan can not be overlooked. Is this a bad excuse? Sure. But even up in the booth, calling the game, I should have been well-rested and ready for a good call on the broadcast. Instead, I felt incredibly drowsy and low-energy and just... blah, having enjoyed a wonderful turkey dinner the previous night. And I wasn't even doing anything physically demanding: my job is to simply stand and talk about the game for several hours. It wasn't the best broadcast. And it wasn't the best game, either. These things are not unrelated. Is it possible that being on the road all weekend, away from the comforts of home and family and turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes, actually left the Smoke Eaters more prepared for this game than the team who had all weekend to get ready for them? It's just a hypothesis of course, but it's worthy of consideration.
- They also lost a defenseman pretty early in the game, which put a lot of minutes on the guys left on the bench. There was some concern Andy Chugg wouldn't be ready to go in this one, having taken a heavy hit from his former club the previous Wednesday. After warm-ups the game-time decision was the Chugg would go after all, with Jeeven Sidhu drawing into the line-up in place of Nick Beck. Sidhu would take a high-stick on his second shift of the game that knocked a tooth out and required numerous stitches.
- Staying in the line-up, Chugg had assists on the first two Surrey goals of the game, the first two points he's recorded in his BCHL career.
- Sam Chatterley scored his first goal of the season, and it was certainly nice to see that happen for a young man who has worked hard over the course of the year -- especially after he was robbed of a goal the previous week when the net popped off its moorings before his shot crossed the line. But this goal happened in part because of John Wesley, who continues to mature every game here, and has been impressive of late on the third line with Chatterley and Ben Butcher. Wesley scored a beautiful goal against Langley the previous Sunday, and nearly added another one on a dynamic dangle to the front of the goal against Salmon Arm. He seems to be getting better at understanding how best to use his size and skill at this level to hang on to the puck, where earlier in the year he didn't have the time or space available to him that he might have been used to playing Junior B with the Richmond Sockeyes last season. In this game, Wesley intercepted a pass along the boards in his own zone, carried up ice, and instead of breaking off the wall into the middle himself as he often does, saw that Chatterley was already there and fed it directly to him instead. Bing bang boom.
- The Eagles top line of Chase McMurphy, Ben Vikich and Quinn Lenihan continue to have great success offensively. This trio has been finding the scoresheet consistently since they were put together in the 3-1 loss to the Nanaimo Clippers on October 3rd. Vikich in particular has four goals in his last four games, while McMurphy has used his blazing speed to create something out of nothing in consecutive games. Three games straight, really, though Vikich was the one to cash in on a rebound in the Langley game. On Wednesday night against the SilverBacks it was beating out an icing call to create a partial break. On Sunday against Trail, it was blowing right through the defense on what started out as a pretty ordinary rush and ended with a breakaway goal in the back of the net. It's taken McMurphy a little while to start cashing in on his chances here in the regular season, but that speed is always going to make things happen for him, and his chemistry with Vikich in particular is undeniable.
- And with each passing game he spends on the top line, it's hard not to feel that Ben Vikich is the straw that stirs the drink on this club. He's a physical player who often leads the team in hits at the end of the game -- something his coach is quick to single him out for praise for -- and he not only knows where to be to generate scoring chances, but how to get there and hang on to that space. In the early games this season when he was playing with Ty Westgard, Ty's passes were finding him in the low slot out front at least once per game, and Vikich seemed surprised to be getting those chances, like he was shocked the puck made it to him. If you look at his career numbers, he's never been a prolific goal-scorer, not even in Junior B. Is this a guy finding his touch in his 20-year-old season, or just a guy making the most of a great opportunity? ...can't it be both?
- If you talk to Ben (and I have, more than any other player on the team so far), he is ever so humble on his current success, immediately deferring to his linemates for making it possible: Lenihan's size, winning battles for the puck and creating space; McMurphy's speed and passing, to work the puck into the zone and find the open man. And it's true, they are working remarkably well as a unit. But there have been a number of both collegiate and NHL scouts in the rink over the course of this five-game home-stand. McMurphy is already committed to Alaska-Fairbanks. Lenihan's still a very young guy. If I'm a college scout, it's tough not to be impressed with what Vikich has done over this stretch.
- And speaking of collegiate scouts and players performing nicely during this recent stretch, the Drapluk twins, Joe and Brian, seem to be generating considerable interest on the scouting front, and it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if they were to commit to a school as a package deal in the near future. I don't have any inside knowledge on this, I'm not tipping my hat on anything already signed and sealed, but the scouting interest in those two is obvious. I'm just saying... if you're a collegiate scout considering recruiting them and you're reading this blog right now: make them an offer before you get scooped.
- Back to the game at hand, this was the first game of the season where Surrey scored more than 3 goals in a game. A strong effort in the third period would have sealed up a victory. But the Eagles deflated. I know that. They know that. And they seem quite disappointed and angry to have done so. The good news is, it should make them plenty fired up for tonight's divisional game against the Rivermen, a team they already badly want to beat. Should make for a spirited effort. We shall see.