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Examining the Surrey Eagles’ three RBC Cup runs

In their 31-season history, the Surrey Eagles made it to the national junior A championship three times. As the South Surrey Eagles, the team went to the RBC Cup in back-to-back seasons. As the Surrey Eagles, the team made the RBC Cup in 2013.

No other Coastal Conference team has played for the national junior A championship more than Surrey. Only the Penticton Vees and Vernon Vipers represented the British Columbia Hockey League at the tournament more than Surrey. Penticton won two national titles and Vernon claimed six.

For Surrey to make the RBC Cup, they defeated the best junior A teams in Canada. This article is about those three RBC Cup runs, including profiles of several key players for each run.

The first road to Summerside

During the 1996-97 season, the South Surrey Eagles finished first in the Coastal Division. At 47-7-6, the Eagles had the best overall record in the BCHL.

During the quarter-finals, the Eagles swept the Chilliwack Chiefs in four games. They then defeated the Powell River Paper Kings in five games in the semi-finals.

In the BCHL championship Fred Page Cup final, Surrey took the Vernon Vipers out in five games in the best-of-seven. During the best-of-five Mowat Cup, the provincial Junior A championship, the Eagles swept the Cranbrook Colts of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League in three games.

Related: Speaking with Shane Kuss

After winning the Mowat Cup, the Eagles moved on to the Doyle Cup, which was a best-of-seven series between the B.C. and Alberta Junior A champions. There, the Eagles defeated the Fort McMurray Oil Barons in five games.

The Eagles defeated the Central Junior A Hockey League’s Kanata Valley Lasers 4-2 in the tournament semi-finals to advance to the RBC Cup Finals, where they were edged 4-3 by the host Summerside Western Capitals of the Maritime Junior Hockey League.

On the Eagles roster, the three top scorers had more than 100 points each during the BCHL regular season. Forwards Shane Kuss, Scott Gomez, and Rod Bowers combined for an eye-popping 377 points. Gomez went on to have a 17-season National Hockey League career.

Earlier this year, the Eagles hired Gomez as an assistant coach and he’s come back to where he started his junior career.

The road to Nanaimo

The following season of 1997-98, South Surrey finished first in the Coastal Division. At 43-15-2, the Eagles had the second-best record in the BCHL.

Once the 1998 Fred Page Cup playoffs arrived, the Eagles eliminated the Nanaimo Clippers in a four-game sweep in the quarter-finals. Since Nanaimo was the host city, the Clippers obtained an automatic berth into the RBC Cup tournament.

During the BCHL semi-finals, the Eagles took out Chilliwack in five games and won the Fred Page Cup with a five-game series win over Penticton.

Like the previous season, the Eagles topped Cranbrook to win the Mowat Cup in three straight. In the Doyle Cup, Surrey needed six games to dump the AJHL’s St. Albert Saints.

At the RBC Cup, South Surrey was unbeaten in the round-robin with a 4-0 record. The Eagles thumped the Milton Merchants of the Ontario Provincial Junior A Hockey League 6-2 in the semi-finals to advance to the championship game for the second straight year. In the RBC Cup final, the Eagles claimed their first national Junior A championship with a 4-1 victory over the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Weyburn Red Wings.

The Eagles’ roster saw their top three scorers leave the team before the 1997-98 season began. Kuss left to play pro hockey in Sweden and Gomez joined the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans. For Bowers, he departed for the United States to play minor pro hockey, but in their place, the Eagles had a new batch of top scorers.

Forwards John McNabb, Mike Bishai, and defender Jakub Ficenec combined for 297 points. The rest of South Surrey’s top 10 scorers had 40 points or more. Ficenec alone scored 35 goals and 56 assists, which are outstanding totals for a blueliner.

The second road to Summerside

The Surrey Eagles finished first in the Mainland Division during the 2012-13 season. At 35-13-3-5, the Eagles had the best overall record in the BCHL.

In the first round of the Fred Page Cup playoffs, the Eagles eliminated the Langley Rivermen 3-1 in the best-of-five series to advance to face the Chilliwack Chiefs in the quarter-finals.

After sweeping the Chiefs in three straight, Surrey moved on to face the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in the Coastal Conference final series. After the Eagles knocked out the Bulldogs in four games, they awaited a match-up with the Penticton Vees.

It took six games, but Surrey topped the Vees in the Fred Page Cup to claim the 2013 BCHL championship. The win saw the Eagles move onto the Western Canada Cup, which was a tournament involving the champions from the BCHL, AJHL, SJHL, and Manitoba Junior Hockey League, as well as a host team.

The Western Canada Cup was a new tournament format to decide who represented Western Canada in the RBC Cup. The winner and runner-up at the WCC would head to Summerside to play for the RBC Cup. The Nanaimo Clippers served as the host team, but the Eagles won the inaugural Western Canada Cup. The Brooks Bandits of the AJHL were the runners-up.

At the RBC Cup, the Eagles went 3-1 in the round-robin but lost to the host Western Capitals 3-2 in overtime in the semi-final round. Brooks went on to defeat Summerside to claim the 2013 national Junior A championship.

This Eagles roster didn’t score like those Surrey teams from the 1990s and their top three scorers combined for 162 points. However, the 2012-13 roster did have a future NHL player on it.

Colorado Avalanche defender Devon Toews played his final junior hockey season with the Eagles that season. At 47 points, the Abbotsford, B.C. product had the third-highest point total on the team, finishing behind forwards Michael Stenerson and Brady Shaw.

The future

With the BCHL now independent of Hockey Canada and the Canadian Junior Hockey League, the Eagles can no longer challenge for the national junior A championship, and instead, they will challenge the other 16 BCHL teams for the Fred Page Cup — and that’s where the playoff road ends.

Last season, the Eagles finished second in the Coastal Conference and lost a close seven-game series to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Surrey is off to a red-hot start in the BCHL this season and it bodes well for the Eagles making another deep run in the playoffs next spring.