It's been a few days now since the 2014 BCHL season kicked off at Prospera Centre in Chilliwack, with all 16 teams getting two games in over the course of the weekend. There were a few things I wanted to get up on this blog before writing my first Eagles-centric post -- a farewell to Chetwynd and Dawson Creek, namely, reflecting on my time with Peace FM and the Dawson Creek Junior Canucks now that those two great years have come to a close. But between moving 1100 kilometres across the province, familiarizing myself with my new job, fighting technical difficulties as we gear up for this season's broadcasts, and clearing all my old stuff out of my parents' house, it has been one thing after another since I moved home a few weeks ago -- and eventually, I'd really like it if one of those things was sleep. So those posts are coming (soon), but first: the BCHL Showcase.
It's been a beautiful, unseasonably warm September in Vancouver that saw August's weather extend long after it typically does around here. But on Friday, the storm clouds came home to roost. Gone was the cheery optimism of summer sun, replaced by the fall slog of September in this city: cold, wet rain, and lots of it. A not-so-subtle sign of what was to come that night.
This year's Surrey Eagles boast a line-up so homegrown that a good two-thirds of the roster is made up of local kids. For many of them, donning the jersey of their hometown club is a dream come true, but Friday night's opponent, the ever-dangerous Penticton Vees, turned this momentous occasion into a waking nightmare. There's not much that needs to be said about a game in which the final score reads 11-2 for Penticton. But some thoughts none the less:
- Chase McMurphy opened the scoring with the Eagles' first goal of the year, and a beautiful goal it was. McMurphy -- who was officially named team captain earlier that afternoon -- plays the right-side point when his team goes up a man, and it's easy to see why the coaching staff likes him there. The guy can dish, a requirement for any PP QB, and while his puck-handling and wrist-shot in-close are exceptional as well, at the line can he ever hammer the puck. Friday's goal was a perfect example. Taking a Joe Drapluk feed off the far wall, McMurphy blasted a lightning bolt into the back of the net with laser accuracy. The goalie never had a chance.
- Speaking of Drapluk, the Drapluk twins -- forward Joseph and defender Brian -- were both given letters on Friday as well, and will wear the A's this season along with winger Darius Davidson. You need your leaders to be your hardest workers, and the Drapluks both worked their bag off right up to the final buzzer on Friday. That's not easy to do in a game where the opposition goes up huge and the game has pretty well been decided before the third period even begins. There were a lot of sullen faces and body language that read as defeated as the game wore on, but to see the team's leaders dig in and continue to work hard despite the score was inspiring up in the booth, nevermind on the bench.
- The elder Davidson (whose younger brother Daniel was thrust between the pipes in the third in relief of starter Christian Short... more on that later) had a beautiful goal of his own towards the end of the first, as the Eagles top line went tic-tac-toe on the rush for a goal that pinballed post-to-post before finding the back of the net. Having watched him in four games now, he's a bullish power-forward who can plow his way to the front of the net to put those soft hands on display. The first goal of many this year, no doubt.
- The Vees scored in bunches throughout: two goals in 49 seconds in the first, two goals in 16 seconds in the second, three goals in 47 seconds in the third. Beautiful goals some of them, but it speaks to a lack of focus in the Surrey side when things veer off-course -- a deflation of confidence that allows things to go from bad to worse. Head Coach Blaine Neufeld spoke after the game about how his team just gave up in spots and got what they deserved for doing so. Consistency was significantly improved in Sunday's action.
- To open the season with a game like this, it is easy to let this result take on too much importance; to let it stand like a monolith of pessimism, painting an ugly picture of the season to come. It is worth noting however, that even the best Eagles teams have had nights like this. In their Fred Page Cup winning season two years ago, there were games where Penticton blew out the Eagles 9-1. It happens. It's just what Penticton does, and they'll do it again this season to teams other than the Surrey Eagles as well. They are a powerhouse team whose dominant reputation makes it easy for them to recruit the highest of high-end talent, of which that roster has quite a bit. And yet, somehow, they don't always win it all. That's why they play the games, and there are still 56 of those left this year. We've got a ways to go yet, and lots can change between then and now.
- This is a very young team, with plenty of players making an adjustment from Junior B and Midget to the Junior A game. Some early-season growing pains are to be expected as these players develop into key contributors for this club. Watching these young guys, the flashes of talent and potential make it hard not to be excited over where this team could be in a few months time. There is hope here.
- 11-2 is an embarrassing score as is, but it could have been even worse if not for Christian Short's stellar net-minding in the first period. Shots on goal after 20 were 21-6 in favour of the Vees, but the score was tied 2-2 because Short was simply that good. And he was even better in...
Sunday's game versus Salmon Arm was a chance to bounce back, and that's the beauty of a weekend league like the BCHL. If you have a rough night on Friday, there isn't much time to dwell on it before you have the opportunity to put it in the past. The Eagles are still in search of Win #1 on the year, but they came significantly closer to getting it on Sunday, and very well may have if not for a bizarre bounce that broke Short's shutout. Having already written about the game and specifically that goal in the weekend summary over at SurreyEagles.ca, I'll repeat myself briefly here:
The one to finally beat Short may be the strangest goal he’ll give up all year. With the Eagles on the powerplay, Short stopped the puck behind his net and left it for one of his skaters: trouble is, two Eagles (with one penalty-killing SilverBack in pursuit) went to retrieve it, colliding and sending the loose puck back towards the front of the goal. Whether it pinged off the back of Short’s skate into the net, or if he stepped on it as he reset himself and slipped to the ice -- kicking it backwards as he fell -- wasn’t quite clear from this reporter’s vantage point. What was clear is that it was an extremely unfortunate break for a young man who was shining bright under the microscope of collegiate and NHL scouts at the Showcase. It was all Salmon Arm needed to claw back in the game.
That about sums it up. Short was incredible in this game, and to let one in in a bizarre comedy of errors would be regrettable under any circumstances, but especially as the ice-breaker in a game that eventually stayed tied into double-overtime. I've no doubt that the Eagles goaltender will commit to an NCAA school before the end of this season, and when he does, it will be easy to point to this game as the moment he shot up the scouting list of any school in attendance. Some other thoughts on Sunday's action:
- Newly-acquired North Vancouver-born defenseman Trevor MacLean, who came over to the Eagles in a three-way deal between Surrey, the Langley Rivermen and the Nanaimo Clippers in the week leading up to the Showcase, opened up the scoring on Sunday. Ben Butcher did the yeoman's work to set up the play, but MacLean made a timely pinch down to just above the right circle and hammered the puck past SilverBacks' goalie Zach Dyment. He had a number of sharp looks from the point throughout the game, and I'm intrigued to keep an eye on him over the course of the year.
- Speaking of defensemen, the pairing of Latrell Charleson and Nick Beck are going to be a treat to watch this season, as there is no lack of size on the ice whenever they're out there. They have the kind of mass that makes them hard to miss -- both clock in at 6'4", with a combined 445 lbs between them. The Towers of Power on the back-end.
- The team was disappointed to learn, despite their roster having already been approved by Hockey Canada, that although the BCHL has no restriction on the number of 16-year-olds one can carry, Hockey Canada's rules supersede league regulations, restricting the team to just two. That held Matt Barberis out of weekend action, and rookie forward Quinn Lenihan was forced to play back on D to compensate. Neufeld called Lenihan "the ultimate utility player" before puck-drop, and he certainly looked that way in the game, showing no signs of discomfort at either position while playing both forward and D on some different-look powerplays. It was on the left-side point where he started the play that led to Ty Westgard's first PP goal, holding the line before peeling down the boards, leaving the puck behind the net for Davidson who fed out front to Westgard in the low slot. Not a bad play at all for a guy thrust into a position he hasn't played in three years.
- Westgard's goals, just 2:05 apart in the first period, were near identical. Same spot on the ice, same shot, same result. It's exactly where any coach wants a guy to be, of course, parked right out front in prime scoring position. But that's tough ground to claim, nevermind hang on to, and to do so to great results twice in quick succession is deserving of praise. As one of the team's 16-year-olds this year, he's definitely a guy who will grow as a player over the course of the season. That he's already leading the team in goals speaks nicely to where he could be by season's end.
- Once again the team was badly out-shot, and that has to be at least mildly concerning to the coaching staff. Penticton outshot them 55-18 on Friday, while the shot-clock read 59-32 when this one came to an end. With two OT periods, there was obviously more time available to both teams to get more pucks on net, and to the Eagles' credit a good many of those 59 shots were from low-percentage angles -- spinning and firing out of the corner from below the goal line, for example. But a weak shot is a shot just the same, and you can't bank on the goalie to be Superman every night.
- On this night however, that's exactly what Christian Short was. Bulletproof. Powered by Earth's yellow sun. While Salmon Arm's Taro Hirose found his kryptonite 1:38 into 2OT, the SilverBacks were clearly flummoxed and frustrated by Short's super-heroics to that point, resorting to Lex Luthor-like tactics by repeatedly bumping and impeding Surrey's star puck-stopper. They looked to take the lead at numerous points in the third, only to have the goal waved off for blatant goalie interference. No disrespect to Ty Westgard, whose two-goal performance earned him first-star honours from whoever decides these things, but there is no question that Short was the best player in this game.
Coming back from the rink after Friday night's action, the day's rain made mist so thick I wasn't sure I could drive through it. When you can't see more than ten feet in front of you, the temptation to pull over -- to sit it out and wait -- is enormous. It felt dangerous to continue through such suffocating fog, but I had faith that if I just kept going it had to get better. It did.
The Eagles next game is their home-opener, this Friday night at 7:11PM against the Chilliwack Chiefs. For tickets, call 604-531-GOAL.