This season’s BC Hockey League All-Star Tournament sounds like a great time in the Okanagan’s great outdoors, and two Surrey Eagles will be there to play next month.
On an outdoor rink in downtown Penticton on Jan. 21, forward Jake Bongo and goaltender Eli Pulver will see action in the 3-on-3 tourney, to feature four teams of six skaters plus a netminder in round-robin games. The all-stars will also participate in a skills competition.
For the Eagles this season, Bongo and Pulver are difference-makers at different ends of the rink.
Right-shot winger Bongo is among team leaders in scoring with 27 points (as of Dec. 5), and Pulver has been a brick wall in net, boasting four shutouts and .927 save percentage.
Both players are in their second season with the soaring Eagles, currently in second place in the BCHL’s Coastal Conference.
On home ice, head coach Cam Keith takes advantage of the larger Olympic-sized sheet at South Surrey Arena by employing a five-man attack with well-activated defensemen, including Tate Taylor, Ross Roloson and Oliver Gabrielson.
“With the help of those two kids, our all-stars (Bongo and Pulver), we’ve had some success this season so far, and it’s also because of our depth,” Keith said Nov. 30.
“I really think the strength of our team is based on our attack of a five-man unit, not three, so when you watch us play you can’t tell who’s playing forward and who’s playing D,” Keith added. “We’re offensive minded, and have lost only one game this season (on Sunday, Nov, 27, to Chilliwack Chiefs), and that success comes from our team exploiting our Olympic ice at home – home-ice advantage. That’s what I tried to create, something like what Tampa Bay and Colorado have been able to do (in the NHL) with their D activation. It’s way harder to defend, especially on the Olympic ice.”
In net, the Vancouver-raised Pulver gets more starts than partner Michael Sochan.
“For the most part they’ve been a really good tandem,” Keith said, “and Eli, especially of late, he’s risen to the occasion and seems to give us those early stops in games that we need to kind of propel our offense and keep the confidence going. Everything has fallen into line for him this year. He’s very articulate, understands the position, and reads plays extremely well.”
Pulver, a St. George’s Academy grad,was among fan-vote all-stars announced Nov. 29, a couple weeks after Bongo was named among the initial 18 skaters for the BCHL’s outdoor event in Penticton.
Connecticut native Bongo was the Eagles’ MVP last season, Keith noted, and returned to the team this year with a commitment to play at Sacred Heart University of the NCA’s Divisdion 1.
”There wasn’t any room for him at Sacred Heart, so that’s why he’s back, and we’re happy to have him,” Keith said of Bongo, who plays on a high-scoring line with Aaron Schwartz and Cole Galata.
“(Bongo) put up 50 points as an 18-year-old, and this year he’s taken over in a lot of different ways,” Keith added.
“He’s a leader, but offensively he always uses deception – you think he’s doing one thing and then does another, extremely evasive. He’s a distributor (of the puck) but also has a knack for scoring goals. He can play on the rush but also below the dots, where he can protect the puck and play a hard-nosed game, too. He’s really balanced in the way he does it, and shows up every night.”
It was a busy weekend for the Eagles, who played their first three and three (three games in three days) of the season, starting with a “tough loss” Dec. 2 to Salmon Arm, 4-3.
Although the Surrey team was up by 2 going into the second, Salmon Arm gained momentum and made it 3-2, but despite tying it up in the third period, the away team went away with the win.
“We controlled the play – it was just one of those games, an unlucky loss,” Keith said.
Pulver was named first star for his stellar goaltending after the Eagles won 2-1 over Coquitlam Dec. 3, with Bongo and teammate Josh Wessels lending an assist each to Aaron Shwartz’s goal.
Bongo was named first star after Sunday’s home-ice 4-1 win over the Langley Rivermen, with Zachary Wagnon scoring the Eagles’ first goal 4:46 into the second, which was a relief for Keith, as it was the Teddy Bear Toss game for charity, where fans throw stuffed teddy bears onto the ice after the Eagles’ first goal.
The Eagles are fighting for first place in the Coastal Conference, one game and four points behind the Nanaimo Clippers, which means every game counts, said Keith.
The Eagles hit the road for their next 3 games, starting with a 7 p.m. puck drop in Chilliwack against the Chiefs on Wednesday (Dec. 7), followed by 2 games in Powell River Dec. 9 and 10.
For all the stats, schedules and tickets, visit surreyeagles.ca
– With files from Tricia Weel