Last night's action was my first trip back to the Langley Events Centre since working there all day every day for two weeks three years ago with Hockey Canada during the 2011 World Junior A Challenge. It was strange to be back in the space where my hockey broadcasting career began -- to walk the halls that held my very first sports interviews, to set up my gear in a press box above the seats I'd sat in and watched every game of that tournament. All of the tournament banners and international flags long since packed up and gone, I could still see it all how it was then, as though the space was haunted by the ghost of not-so-distant memories.
The Eagles were similarly haunted by a ghost of the past last night, by a goaltender they sent to Langley before this season began. Surrey's first victory of the season, some ten days earlier, came over Bo Didur and his new club, the Langley Rivermen. And despite a Herculean effort between the pipes by Eagles netminder Christian Short, it was Didur who laughed last on this night:
- The single point the Eagles get out of this OT loss belongs almost entirely to Christian Short, who seemed crestfallen to give up the winner in extra time. He gave his team a chance to win a game they had no business being in, at least not by shot metrics. Short faced 36 shots through the first 40 minutes, and an additional 22 in the final frame of regulation. That is an extraordinary amount of work for a goaltender, and barring an 8 second stretch where the entire Eagles club seemed to lose their focus in the third period, he was nothing short of magnificent.
- Having said that, though the disparity in shots on goal was quite wide (59-29 Langley), the total number of pucks fired in this game was likely rather even. Langley ran up the shot clock early on consecutive powerplays in the first ten minutes of the game, and while Surrey got a pair of powerplays of their own to try and catch up, their shots were largely blocked before they could get through to Didur. Shot-blocking of course is part of the game, and while the Eagles are not adverse to giving up the body themselves, it is something of a philosophical difference between these two clubs. Watch the Rivermen for any amount of time and one of the things that becomes immediately clear is this is a team that has been instructed to put a body in front of the puck at every opportunity. They block a ton of shots. The Eagles meanwhile only seem to dive into the line of fire on dangerous in-close chances. If a shot is coming from far out, be it back at the line or along the wall, the team has faith in their goaltender to stop the shot if he can see it coming, allowing the puck through for a routine save, often leading to the covering of the puck for a whistle. These two styles put side-by-side show a massive disparity in shots that would imply the Langley Rivermen were hockey's equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters in the overall possession game, but the truth of the matter is the game was much closer than the shot clock portrays.
- Poor Andy Chugg. What's a guy gotta do to get a little love on the scoresheet? Chugg stepped up in the play to help create Spencer Unger's first BCHL goal, and had his assist stripped and given to #14 instead of #4, as Ben Butcher was credited with it in the building. This ordinarily wouldn't be that big of a deal, but it's the second-straight game where this has happened to Chugg, who was eventually credited with a pair of assists in Sunday's game against Trail -- the first two points of his BCHL career.
- The scorekeeping was kind of wonky in general in this game though, as the third Rivermen goal came off what was clearly a bad giveaway by Zane Schartz in the Surrey end, right on to the stick of Langley's Ryan Coulter. This is clear as day in the video "highlights" below (none of the Eagles goals make the reel, though some dandy saves by Short made the cut), and yet the home scorekeepers put a pair of assists on the play.
- You can see Schartz' frustration at his mistake in the breaking of his stick over the post following the Coulter goal, and he was quite self-critical of his play after the game. There's no sugar-coating it, you can see it yourself on the video: that's a bad giveaway. But Schartz has largely been very good in his second stint with the Eagles, and had to play a significantly larger role in this game (along with Brian Drapluk, Latrell Charleson and Chugg) in the absence of Trevor MacLean.
- MacLean and John Wesley were held out of the line-up on Wednesday as a precaution, with both feeling a little fuzzy after absorbing some big hits in Sunday's action. The team's staff doctor specializes in head injuries, and felt it best to give them some extra time off before drawing back into the line-up on Sunday against the Coquitlam Express. I hate to use the term "mild concussion" because it's essentially saying "minor brain trauma" -- it's downplaying something that's still serious no matter the severity. But both players are not far away from returning to the line-up, and having them out is a major blow to the team's depth. Wesley started the year on the top line and while he's fallen to third line, he's still an important player there -- perhaps the most important player in the bottom-six in terms of generating scoring chances from the lower end of the line-up. MacLean meanwhile is reliable in every situation, has a dangerous point-shot, and as a former Langley skater was likely to be fired up to play the club that gave him away. But there will always be injuries. Such is life.
- What a wild and wooly third period this game had, with five goals scored in the span of 53 seconds. Save for an 8 second stretch where the Eagles maybe got caught feeling sorry for themselves -- having pushed so hard to tie the game at 1 on Unger's goal only to give up the lead again just 34 seconds later -- Surrey's resiliency in third was commendable, as the team seemed determined not to let their goalie's performance go to waste. Head Coach Blaine Neufeld used his timeout after the Rivermen scored their second of two goals in 8 seconds, and the team reacted accordingly -- Joe Drapluk scored his third goal of the year just 11 seconds afterwards.
- The goal that tied the game, Ty Westgard's 5th of the season, goes to show that anything can happen if you simply take a shot. Westgard took the puck in straight up the middle, and with two defensemen closing in on him as he crossed the blueline into the offensive zone he fired a pretty harmless looking wrister from the line. Didur didn't just catch a piece of it -- he got all of it -- but it somehow just kept going through him, dribbling in behind to send the game to overtime.
- The Eagles looked to have won the game in overtime, as 15 seconds into the extra period an Andy Chugg shot beat Didur, who fell wildly backwards as the shot came through after Chase McMurphy set the screen out front. It was immediately waived off for incidental contact with the goaltender, and you'll notice this sequence is conspicuously absent from the highlights above. They replayed it in the building, and while McMurphy and Didur's legs certainly get tied up, it didn't seem to be nearly as dramatic a moment as Didur sold it. Certain people will disagree with that take, and they're good people to be sure, but... That would have been the win right there. Instead, BCHL All-Name Team member Jake Zeleznikar finished it with Langley's only shot of overtime.