Welcome back, Justin LaForest.
The 20-year-old netminder returned to the Surrey Eagles crease for the first time in two months – he’d been out with an injury since mid-October – and was thrown right into the fire, stopping 89 over 95 shots in just two road games, both losses, against the Wenatchee Wild last week.
Then, if that wasn’t enough, the veteran goalie was thrust into action Sunday at South Surrey Arena as well, stopping 27 of 30 shots in relief of starter Daniel Davidson in an 8-5 loss to the visiting Nanaimo Clippers.
In Thursday and Friday night’s losses to the high-powered Wild – by scores of 4-1 and 2-1 – LaForest was the star.
In the first period Friday, he kept the Eagles in the game, stopping all 20 shots he faced, while his teammates managed just four on Wenatchee keeper Chase Perry.
In the second, the Wild finally got on the board, scoring three times to take a commanding lead.
The third period, like the first, was evenly played, with Troy Conzo making it 4-0 with a power-play goal, before Surrey forward Kurt Black got the visitors on the board with less than three minutes to go in the game.
The Eagles struggled on the power play, going 0-for-4 with the man-advantage, but they excelled killing penalties, limiting the Wild to just one goal in seven opportunities.
On Friday, LaForest shut the door early as well, stopping all of Wenatchee’s 19 first-period shots. The Wild finally snapped the goal-less stretch 30 seconds into the second when Mike Coyne scored, but the 1-0 lead lasted less than nine minutes, as Black tied the game midway through the period.
The final period was much the same as the first, with Wenatchee peppering LaForest with rubber, but the keeper showed no sign of rust or fatigue in the second game of a back-to-back series, stopping 15 shots to keep the score 2-1.
Black’s two-goal effort on the road trip gave him nine points in nine games since joining the Eagles; he was acquired last month from the Trail Smoke Eaters in a deal that sent Kyle Star the other direction.
Black was again one of the team’s offensive catalysts Sunday against Nanaimo, scoring twice while adding an assist in the 8-5 loss.
Paul McAvoy also had two goals and an assist to pace the Eagles’ attack, which started slow before picking up in the final 20 minutes.
Surrey trailed 2-1 after the first period – firing 19 shots on the Nanaimo goal – but the Clippers rallied in the middle frame to score five goals.
Trailing 7-1 after 40 minutes, Surrey mounted a comeback of sorts in the third period, scoring four goals to make it 7-5, but a Nanaimo empty-net goal with 1:29 left on the clock iced the win for the Island visitors.
The losses dropped the Eagles’ record to 5-25 (win-loss), though the team will have the chance to claw back into the win column this weekend, with a busy three-games-in-three-nights stretch.
On Friday, Surrey will travel to Coquitlam for a game against the Express, and the two squads will square off in a rematch Sunday, also in Coquitlam. In between, the Eagles will host Langley Saturday in South Surrey.