Examining the relocation of the New Westminster Royals to Surrey

Before relocating to Surrey, the Eagles played as the New Westminster Royals from 1988-91. Before 1988, there were two previous versions of the Royals and each one was successful.

During the 1989-90 season, the Royals won the Abbott Cup as Western Canada junior A champion as well as the RBC Cup as the national junior A champion.

After the 1990-91 season, the Royals relocated from New Westminster to Surrey and have played there ever since.

The relocation of the Royals was one of several relocations to occur in the BCHL in the last 30 years. Examining the relocation before and after it happened is what this article is about. Before that though, I want to look at players who skated for both teams.

One shared player

Goaltender Robert Bell played 37 games for the New Westminster Royals in 1990-91 and after the relocation to Surrey, 30 games for the Eagles in 1991-92. That same season, Bell spent 11 games with the Penticton Panthers following a trade from Surrey.

According to Elite Prospects, Bell is the only player to play for both teams. Every other player on that 1991-92 inaugural Surrey Eagles team was new.

After 1991-92, Bell played three seasons at Providence College before getting into four seasons of pro hockey in several different leagues. The last team he played for was the now-defunct Augusta Lynx of the ECHL.

Before the relocation

The New Westminster Royals had an irregular existence. Different versions of the Royals operated at different times because of the presence of the Western Hockey League’s New Westminster Bruins.

There were two incarnations of the Bruins. The first lasted from 1971 to 1981 and now plays in the WHL as the Kamloops Blazers. The second incarnation lasted from 1983 to 1988 and is now in the WHL as the Tri-City Americans.

It isn’t really feasible for WHL teams and BCHL teams to coexist in the same home arena and the Bruins took precedence at Queen’s Park Arena in New Westminster while the Royals went dormant.

The Royals’ “first” final season saw them finish with a record of 38-21-1 in 1980-81 and were eliminated in the Coastal Division semifinal round.

After the relocation

The South Surrey Arena has been the Eagles’ nest since 1991. Since then, Surrey won the BCHL’s Fred Page Cup four times and the Eagles were also national junior A champions in 1998.

In terms of longevity, the Eagles’ operations have never been interrupted. The team has changed its name twice but has not suspended operations at any point.

Since 1991, the Eagles have also seen several players go on to the National Hockey League, including current pros Devon Toews of the Colorado Avalanche, Brandon Tanev of the Seattle Kraken, and Danton Heinen of the Pittsburgh Penguins. I noted some of these players in a previous article about the team.

In May 2022, the team was purchased by Ron and TJ Brar. The brothers own and operate Evergreen Herbs, a company that provides herbs and vegetables across Canada. They took over the team from former owner Chuck Westgard.

Junior hockey in New Westminster and Surrey

After the Royals left New Westminster, Queen’s Park Arena hosted two other junior hockey teams. From 1994 to 1996, Queen’s Park Arena hosted the expansion Royal City Outlaws.

The Outlaws only lasted two seasons and in 1996, their franchise rights were sold to a group from Prince George and the Spruce Kings moved to the BCHL from the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League. It was something I covered in a past article.

In 1999, Queen’s Park Arena was granted an expansion Pacific Junior Hockey League team. The junior B Queen’s Park Pirates played in New Westminster for three seasons from 1999 to 2002.

After a handful of relocations, the Pirates franchise now plays as the Surrey Knights at the North Surrey Sport and Ice Complex. Behind the Eagles, they are the second junior team to leave New Westminster and end up in Surrey.

Currently, Queen’s Park Arena plays host to the New Westminster Salmonbellies, which plays in the men’s senior A Western Lacrosse Association. The legendary rink itself doesn’t host junior hockey anymore.