Playoff hockey is returning to South Surrey Arena.
After winning two of three games over a three-day stretch last weekend, the Surrey Eagles moved into third place in the BC Hockey League’s Mainland Division, punching their ticket to the post-season in the process.
On Friday night, the Eagles – playing at home for the first time in almost three weeks – shut out the visiting Prince George Spruce Kings 3-0, and on Saturday in Merritt, they earned two more points after a 7-3 win over the Centennials.
The road trip north was a short one, however, as the team returned to South Surrey on Sunday, where they lost a late afternoon tilt to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, 3-2.
“It was a third-in-three-days Sunday game and when you have that you’re going to have highs and lows.. I thought our game was pretty solid but scrambly,” said Eagles head coach Cam Keith, who has guided team to the playoffs in his first year behind the bench.
With 10 games left to play in the regular season, the Birds sit with a 20-21-3-4 record (win-loss-overtime loss-shootout loss), and with the BCHL’s new playoff format – which was confirmed by the league just last week – it means the team is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs.
Under the revised playoff system – which is the sixth new format for the league since 2010 – the top four teams in the Island and Mainland divisions will make the playoffs, as well as the top six finishers in the Interior Division, for a total of 14 teams. Two more wild-card teams – based on regular-seasons points and regardless of division – will also qualify and play out of the Interior Division.
Only one team in the 17-team league won’t qualify for the playoffs; Surrey is 23 points up on the last-place Centennials, and are therefore not in danger of falling out of the top 16 with just 10 games to go. Last season, however, the Birds found themselves in that unenviable position, and were the only team to miss the playoffs.
The Eagles did make the playoffs in 2018 under head coach Brandon West – winning a first-round series against the Langley Rivermen before losing in division finals to Prince George – but the team missed out in the three seasons before that.
This year will mark just the four playoff appearance for the team since its run to the RBC Cup national championship in 2012/13.
In a story posted on the team’s official website, it was noted that, with the playoff spot clinched, the organization can officially “consign a dreadful 2018-19 campaign to the scrap heap.”
After Sunday’s game, Keith insisted his squad – which is the youngest in the league – wasn’t yet focused on the playoffs, and were instead just trying to play their best as the regular season winds down.
“We do have a team that feels like it can play against anybody right now. We really haven’t talked playoffs until this point. We’ve just talked about being the best version of ourselves,” he said.
Though the standings will change over the next few weeks, the Eagles would currently match up against the Chilliwack Chiefs if the playoffs were to begin this week.
And though Keith insisted the players were trying not to look too far ahead, the team’s general manager told Peace Arch News prior to the Jan. 10 trade deadline that he felt the team was a legitimate contender.
“We feel like… we can go on a good playoff run and chase a championship this year, never mind next season,” Blaine Neufeld said.
In Saturday’s victory over Merritt – the game that officially put the team in the playoffs – the Eagles were led by rookie forward Sean Ramsay, who scored twice in his first game back in the lineup after being sidelined more than a month due to injury.
Christophe Tellier, Wyatt Schlaht, Gabe Shovanek, Kenny Riddett and Cade Alami rounded out the scoring for the visitors, while goaltender Reece Klassen stopped 28 shots to earn the win.
Klassen has been stellar between the pipes for the Eagles since being acquired prior to the trade deadline. He has a 5-2 win-loss record, one shutout and a save-percentage of .921.
Keith heaped praise on his whole team after the win – specifically, for the team’s ability to spread the scoring through multiple lines – but saved his biggest compliments for captain Hudson Schandor, who he credits for keeping his teammates focused as they took aim at the playoffs, especially earlier in the season when the team was struggling.
“The leadership from Hudson Schandor kept this group positive,” Keith said. “It would have been very easy for guys to turn negative, especially when we were way below .500 and last in our division. But you could never tell that was the case by being in our dressing room and seeing how hard the guys practiced and how we carried ourselves… and I think that all came from Hudson.
“He’s the most positive guy I’ve ever met… you have to give a lot of credit to him.”
The Eagles are back on home ice Friday, when they host the Chiefs at 7 p.m. On Saturday, the teams will play a rematch in Chilliwack.