With their 25th anniversary season fast approaching, the Surrey Eagles are spending the offseason getting in touch with their roots.
Currently, the BC Hockey League team’s dressing room – which was renovated and expanded a few years ago – is undergoing a new round of improvements which, when completed, will provide a link to the team’s past successes. A handful of framed jerseys – including one dug up from the archives from the team’s early ’90s heyday – already hang on the freshly-painted blue walls of the coach’s meeting and video room, and they’ll soon be joined by photos and names of the team’s most distinguished alums, including the players who’ve made it to the National Hockey League, such as Scott Gomez, Tyler Eckford and Andrew Hammond. Wall space in one hallway is also earmarked for a list of every former player who has earned an NCAA scholarship – a number that’s quickly approaching 200.
And when the season begins in the fall, the team will roll out a handful of other initiatives aimed at celebrating their junior-hockey heritage.
Throughout the season, past players are going to be invited back for various pre-game ceremonies, according to Kevin Simpson, the team’s vice-president and director of business operations, and other ideas are also percolating – such as retro jersey nights and the like.
“The more things that we can do to relive and celebrate our history with our fans, we’re going to do. I think the fans will really enjoy it,” he said.
As well, the team will wear 25th anniversary patches on their uniforms, and the new commemorative logo will also appear on the team’s pucks and other merchandise.
The Eagles aren’t the only organization on the Peninsula celebrating a milestone either. Semiahmoo Minor Hockey is set to mark its 50th anniversary this year, and Simpson said some joint projects are in the works, as well.
Though the Surrey Eagles struggled last season, winning just nine of 58 games en route to a last-place finish in the BCHL, they have been among the league’s more stable franchises. They are the longest continuously operating franchise in the Lower Mainland – Langley has had two different teams (and four team names) since the ’90s; Chilliwack had a brief hiatus when the WHL was in town; and the Express have bounced between Burnaby and Coquitlam – and are among the entire league’s longest-tenured clubs.
Surrey head coach Blaine Neufeld said it’s important to celebrate such longevity – both when on the player-recruiting trail, and in the community.
“This team, we’re right up there, historically, with the best teams in this league. Kids want to go to programs that have had success,” he said. “In junior hockey, you have highs and lows, but this franchise has hit that high point – that pinnacle – more than a lot of teams.”
Collecting and cataloguing the team’s history hasn’t been the easiest task for Neufeld and other team staff members – they’ve spent hours combing through online records, while going on a treasure hunt of sorts to track down old photos, jerseys and other memorabilia.
“It was a lot of work, but we’ve done it now, so now we know that we’ve had 170 players who’ve moved on to NCAA Div. 1 scholarships. We had no idea what that number was before,” Neufeld said. “This group that’s here now, whether we’re here for 10 years or 50 years, we want to make sure that history is here.”