Soon after being named host city for a BCHL pod, the Coquitlam Express had a conundrum to deal with. Due to the imminent removal of the ice at the Poirier Sports and Leisure Complex coupled with a Covid-19 vaccine clinic across the street, a new host arena for the pod had to be found.
Luckily, the Scotiabank Barn in Burnaby was able to accommodate the Coquitlam Express, Surrey Eagles, and Powell River Kings for the pod season. It was a renaissance for the Express, returning to play games in an arena mere steps away from their former home at the Bill Copeland Sports Centre.
The games in the pod were competitive, with the Surrey Eagles coming out on top as pod champions. That’s not to say the Express and Kings didn’t have players enjoying success as well during the 20-game sprint. Let’s take a look at three stars from the Coquitlam pod.
Coquitlam Express: Keeton Oakley
— Coquitlam Express (@BCHLExpress) May 4, 2021
Oakley‘s pod season was truly unique. He joined the Express as a player on loan from the Langley Rivermen, who opted out of the BCHL pod season.
The 18-year-old native of Aldergrove, BC had a breakout rookie campaign, finishing second in Express team scoring with exactly 20 points. Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing 200 pounds, Oakley possesses the size to be a dominant power forward in the league.
Express General Manager Tali Campbell was impressed with what he saw from the freshman. “(He) started out hot, took a dip, then found his groove again. Oakley will have a bright future in the BCHL.”
The George Preston Arena faithful definitely has a player to keep an eye on next season for the Rivermen.
Powell River Kings: Jacob Bonkowski
— Powell River Kings (@BCHLKings) May 4, 2021
Continuing our future look brings us to Jacob Bonkowski of the Powell River Kings. Bonkowski had a decent rookie season, finishing second on the Kings in scoring. He potted three goals and added 13 assists, finishing with at least a point in 12 out of 20 games.
The Richmond, BC native played all 20 games in the pod and did not spend a single minute in the penalty box. When his 6-foot, 162-pound frame fills out, he should have success at the BCHL level and beyond.
At just 17-years-old, Bonkowski has the potential to develop his game in the BCHL.
Surrey Eagles: Christian Fitzgerald
To say Surrey Eagles forward Christian Fitzgerald had a break-out pod season is a massive understatement. Notching just six points in 45 games last season, Fitzgerald led the entire BCHL in scoring on the strength of 13 goals and 20 assists for 33 points.
Projected over a full 58-game season, the 18-year-old scored at a pace of 38 goals and 58 assists for 96 points. A fixture on the Eagles’ powerplay unit, Fitzgerald also led the BCHL in powerplay points with 20. He played 19 games and was only held off the scoresheet in one game.
Eagles’ assistant general manager Charlie Black said Fitzgerald, who’s from Coquitlam, was dangerous every time he was on the ice. “(Fitzgerald) is an exciting player to watch due to his speed, awareness, and positioning. (He) has to be seen to believed, and will likely have his name called at the NHL Draft in July.”
Fitzgerald is bound for the State of Hockey in the fall with an NCAA scholarship to Minnesota State University. Joining Fitzgerald on his trip to Mankato is Simon Tassy of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks and Luc Wilson of the Penticton Vees.
All three were in the top 10 in BCHL scoring during the season and adding the trio as new recruits truly illustrate MSU’s desire to build a team well.