The Eagles got back into the W column this past Sunday with a big 4-3 win over the visiting Coquitlam Express. It's the same opponent coming right back to the South Surrey Arena this evening, so before that game starts, how 'bout some stray thoughts on the last one?
- I mentioned last week that Ben Vikich might be the straw that stirs the drink on the Eagles at the moment, as the team seems to succeed when he finds the back of the net, and he tends to score when he's playing the physical game that was expected of him prior to the year. Vikich is still a player of the utmost importance on this club, and the offense that he and Chase McMurphy are creating together certainly a big reason why the Eagles 3-1-0-1 in their last five games, but...
- More and more it seems the team's heartbeat up front is Joe Drapluk. Drapluk's four goals on the year have come in critical moments to either win the game in overtime or give his team the emotional lift they might be lacking to keep hope alive in the third period. That was certainly the case on Sunday against Coquitlam, where the Eagles fell behind 3-2 in the third period and got a big goal from Drapluk to lock things at 3. It wasn't the forceful exclamation point that his goal in Langley last Wednesday might have been, but it was exactly what the team needed, from the guy who has given this club a much-needed shot in the arm several times already early in the year.
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:
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:
Notes from Sunday's game, the third in three nights for both teams involved, as the Spruce Kings made their first visit to the South Surrey Arena this season. Surrey really deserved to win this game, but in hockey, as in life, "deserves" ain't got nothin' to do with it:
- It hurts to lose a game like this much more than an 11-2 drubbing at the hands of Penticton. It was a heart-wrenching loss for a number of reason, not the least of which that the Eagles put in their best, most consistent 60 minute effort of the year to date, and received zero reward for doing so. When victory is out of reach for the bulk of play, it's easy to disconnect from it and start looking ahead to the next one before you're even out of a game like the season-opener. To give up the go-ahead goal (and essentially surrender the win) with only 16 seconds to go... Just rip my heart out and throw it in the garbage, why don't you. Long faces up and down the Surrey bench at the end of this one. They all know how close they were.
Some notes from Saturday night's contest, the rematch between Surrey and Chilliwack 24 hours in the making. As I noted in the previous post, the Eagles were pretty eager to play spoiler in the Chiefs home-opener, having allowed Chilliwack to put a damper on the festivities Surrey's first home game the night before. This game, however, would not be quite as close:
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 preparing my parents' home for the market as they get set to put it on sale, 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.
Saturday's game between the Dawson Creek Junior Canucks and the Slave Lake Wolves was always destined to be a strange one. They always are.
When we made our first trip to Slave Lake last season, we were in some ways fortunate to arrive on a semi-historic evening for the both the team and the town they play for. It was the Wolves first home game in their return to the NWJHL, and a tall drink of water for a community thirsty for junior hockey, having gone a year without it in the wake of the terrible fires that had ravaged Slave Lake the previous summer. It was an emotional evening, for some perhaps too emotional -- as in the third period, when an intoxicated fan dissatisfied with my call of the game offered to take my job off my hands, so that, in his words, he could tell the folks back home just how bad the Junior Canucks really were. When I refused, he offered to fight me instead. I was able to talk him out of all of this, live on the air, in what is still the most bizarre incident I've been a part of as a broadcaster.
The importance of providing an entertaining product for the Dawson Creek fans paying to watch wasn't lost on Head Coach Eric Fulton after a demoralizing 8-3 loss to the Fort St. John Huskies in the season opener. For the first time in a number of years, the team came into the season with a great deal of positive buzz, and rewarding the faithful was a priority.
Consider that faith rewarded. A pair of victories in Week 2 of the season could hardly have been more dramatic, as both required extra time. Saturday's tilt against the Beaverlodge Blades was won on a TJ Norris snipe in the shootout, while Spencer Gover powered the Junior Canucks to an overtime win over the Slave Lake Wolves on Sunday afternoon with consecutive goals -- first to force the extra frame with 3:01 to go in regulation, then to win the game just 46 seconds into OT.
While the games were great drama for fans in the building, the coach wasn't exactly biting his fingernails on the bench. "I was more concerned with the way we played, the score will dictate itself," said Fulton, with a laugh.
But the thrill of overtime wasn't lost on him either. "It is exciting obviously to get into the shootout, but we did talk about it earlier that we needed to give the fans something to get excited about and enjoy. I think the boys did a good job of that. ...not on purpose, by the way. We didn't mean to have overtime games, but it happened that way, and I think it was enjoyable for everybody. "
Speaking with acting captain Connor Rose ahead of Saturday's season opener, the same theme came up again and again. "We just need to get the lines together and find some chemistry," he said. "Once we get a little ways into this season, we'll click pretty good. This is a team that's not as close off the ice. ... We're still working out the kinks."
In short: we aren't a team yet.
He was talking about the team's pre-season losses at the time, but he could have just as easily been talking about Saturday's stunning loss at the Memorial Arena, where a group of individuals wearing the same coloured jersey were demolished 8-3 by the Fort St. John Huskies in their home opener.
As the season opener approaches and the Junior Canucks officially turn the page on last year's results, their final tune-up game of the exhibition schedule told a familiar story. Hitting the road for the first time this year, Dawson Creek headed to Grande Prairie, Alberta, and were dispatched by the hometown JDA Kings by a lopsided 8-1 score.
The Kings have been have been a perennial powerhouse in the NWJHL, and a win, even in pre-season, would have gone a long way in demonstrating how far this club has come over the summer. And while they may not be all the way there yet, the score hides a number of promising steps for Dawson Creek.
"We chance-for-chance'd them for the first two periods -- they buried and we didn't, but shots were close, for the most part," says Head Coach Eric Fulton, whose team just couldn't get a lucky bounce. "But you could tell from last year to this year, we could take the play to them. We'd have two or three good shifts in a row where we're in their end the whole time and we're putting it to them... I think at the end of the day they just have some more mature hockey players and our guys just have a little ways to develop to catch up to that."