Around the BCHL: Surrey Eagles have a new head coach, again

Around the BCHL is a look at what’s happening in the league and around the junior A world.

Welcome to the November 29, 2018 edition of Around the BCHL.

The obvious starting point today is Surrey where the Eagles are on to their third head coach this season.

Linden Saip takes over for Peter Schaefer (fired) who previously took over for Brandon West (resigned).

And the wheels keep spinning.

Since winning the BCHL championship in 2012-13 the Eagles have… struggled. The four years after that title saw them bounced in the first round of the 2013-14 playoffs and missing the postseason the next three years. Surrey was the league’s surprise team last season with a 26-22-8-2 record and a trip to the Mainland division final, but they’ve cratered again this year and sit dead last with a 7-23-0-1 record.

Without being in the building, who knows for sure what’s happened to a once-proud franchise.

Linden Saip has been named the Surrey Eagles interim head coach after Peter Schaefer was fired earlier this week. (David Bowers photo)

There’s one big takeaway here.

A hallmark of good organizations is stability and the Eagles have struggled with that.

Matt Erhart was behind the bench for the 2012-13 championship before leaving to join the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants. Peter Schaefer replaced him in 2013-14, lasting just one season before being let go. Current general manager Blaine Neufeld ran the bench the next three seasons before handing it off to West, who shepherded the team through last season’s renaissance. West resigned just a week before this season and Schaefer lasted three months in his second go-around behind the bench.

Now they’ve got a 27 year old first-time head coach running the show. Saip might end up being fantastic, but that’s a lot of turnover.

Contrast that with your perennial powerhouses. Penticton’s Fred Harbinson has held the job since 2007-08 and Wenatchee’s Bliss Littler is in his seventh season with the team. The best teams do three things right.

#1 – Hire the right person in the first place.

#2 – Give that person the freedom to implement what needs to be implemented, free of interference.

#3 – Be patient.

People within the Surrey organization have to look at whatever process they have in place and identify where they’re falling short, because what they’ve been doing isn’t working.

The league is better with a strong Eagles franchise, so here’s hoping they figure it out.

And best of luck to Saip.

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Highlights for the Cowichan Capitals have been few and very far between this season, but how about their Wednesday night win over the Victoria Grizzlies.

The Caps took down the Island division leading Grizz by a 7-4 count on home ice at the Island Savings Centre.

It must have been a great game to attend live, with the teams combining for 91 shots on goal (47-44 Cowichan). Preston Brodziak and Niko Esposito-Selivanov (great name combo!) scored two apiece for the Caps with Luc Wilson, Doug Scott and David Melaragni adding singles. Goalie Jack Grant stopped 40 pucks for the win.

Cowichan is a good test-case for the patience theory.

Head coach/general manager Mike Vandekamp has 23 years of junior coaching experience and has been a winner in every stop, but a 7-17-4-1 record is an inauspicious start to his tenure. He deserves at least one full off-season and one full recruiting class before he’s judged, but Cowichan is another team that has chewed up and spit out coaches at a rapid rate.

Cowichan Capitals forward Kolton Cousins charges across the front of the crease on his way to scoring Cowichan’s third goal of the game in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Nanaimo Clippers last week. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

The Capitals have only managed a .500 record once in the last six seasons. They’ve missed the playoffs four times and been bounced in the first round the other two years. They haven’t finished first in their division since the 2003-04 season and their only BCHL finals appearance in franchise history came way back in 1993-94.

That is a fanbase that is desperate for a winner. How patient are they willing to be to get one?

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I talked enough about Chilliwack and Prince George in Tuesday’s column, so I won’t spend any more time on it other than to say that with Wednesday night’s 3-1 win over Merritt, the Spruce Kings now sit atop the Mainland division (and league) standings.

I expect they’ll stay there.

One team that might deserve a bit more love is the Langley Rivermen, who’ve won five of their last seven games to close the gap between themselves and the slumping Coquitlam Express.

Langley (14-13-1-0) is fourth in the Mainland division, just two points back of Coquitlam (15-11-1-0), which has suddenly lose five straight.

The Express were a great story to start the season, but they were due for some regression.

Langley started slow, but had too much talent to keep muddling along. New goaltender Shayne Battler (great name!) has been a revelation. In three appearances the 20 year old Ontario native has a .945 save percentage and 1.95 goals-against average. Battler and Braedon Fleming (.907 SP/2.73 GAA) give Langley a solid netminding tandem.

Now they need the offence to start clicking.

Forward Ethan Leyh has been great, with 14 goals and 30 points in 28 games, but he’s one of just two players on the roster to hit double digits in goals so far this season, along with Trevor Ayre (13). Jake Livingstone is the seventh highest scoring defenceman in the BCHL with four goals and 21 points in 27 games, but it’s a problem for the Rivermen that he’s their second highest point getter.

It’s a veteran roster with a bunch of 19 and 20 year old players who need to step it up in the second half of the season.

This recent surge may be a sign of that.

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The Vernon Vipers have made a move to shore up their goaltending, acquiring 19 year old Bradley Cooper from the Prince George Spruce Kings in exchange for forward Garrett Worth.

Cooper is best known for his four Academy Award wins and is the voice of Rocket Raccoon in the Marvel Comics cinematic universe (I kid, I kid).

Cooper the goalie has made eight appearances with PG this season, posting a 2.28 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. In 15 games with the Sprucies last year he had a .918 SP and 2.31 GAA.

The Vipers are gambling a bit that Cooper’s numbers will hold up once he’s removed from the air-tight defensive system that Prince George plays, but Vernon needed to shore up the goaltending. When Max Palaga abruptly left for the Western Hockey League, Aidan Porter was left to hold the fort. He’s been okay with a .905 SP and 2.79 GAA. Not bad. Not great. Goals against isn’t the big problem for the Vipers, who’ve actually given up the second fewest in the league behind PG.

Vernon Vipers goalie Aidan Porter makes a dramatic save in traffic. (John K. White/Morning Star)

But between Penticton, Merritt, Wenatchee and West Kelowna, four of the BCHL’s top six offensive attacks are in the Interior division.

And Vernon is a team that struggles to score, putting a magnifying glass on every goal against.

If Porter and Cooper can turn some of those one goal losses into one goal wins, the Vipers will have a chance to climb back up the standings, which makes this a gamble worth making.

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Finally, the Chilliwack Chiefs Dec. 8 game against the Powell River Kings is going to get ugly.

The team is wearing special ‘ugly Christmas sweater’ themed jerseys that will be auctioned off to support the Fraser Valley Health Care Foundation. Fans are invited to wear ugly Christmas sweaters to the game as well.

It’s a neat idea. Hard on the eyes, but should be fun.

Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.

Email eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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