After a slow start, the Surrey Eagles are in the driver's seat at the inaugural Western Canada Cup junior A hockey tournament in Nanaimo
The event features the champions of Canada's four western provinces plus the host Nanaimo Clippers vying for two spots in the Royal Bank Cup national championship later this month in Prince Edward Island.
Surrey stumbled out of the starting gate with a 4-1 loss to Alberta's Brooks Bandits but, after an off day Sunday to regroup, bounced back to beat Manitoba's Steinbach Pistons 5-3 Monday followed by a 4-0 whitewash of Nanaimo Tuesday.
Surrey had Wednesday off before playing Saskatchewan's Yorkton Terriers Thursday afternoon. The winner of that game is assured of a berth in the tournament's championship match Saturday evening.
"We control our own destiny now," said Eagles coach Matt Erhart. "We knew that if we played well against Nanaimo and we got the win, we don't have to rely on any other team for help to reach the final. Now we just have to focus on Yorkton and that game will pretty much be like a semifinal with the winner going on to the first place game. We have a day off (Wednesday) before that game so we'll get recharged and prepare for Yorkton."
Surrey's best effort of the week came Tuesday night when the Eagles returned to the style of play that carried the Birds to B.C. Hockey League championship last month. The Eagles dominated Nanaimo throughout the game and broke things wide open with a three-goal surge in the middle frame.
"We finally put 60 minutes together instead of 30," Erhart said. "Nanaimo is obviously a good team, but in the second half especially, we were able to take over with our speed and forecheck.
"Our penalty kill was six for six and we got some timely goals and played a sound, all-around game. It was more like we were playing in the playoffs leading up to this tournament."
After a scoreless opening 20 minutes, the Eagles sank the Clippers in the second period with a pair of goals from Drew Best sandwiching an Adam Tambellini tally.
Surrey iced the game when Michael Stenerson scored the lone goal of the third period. Surrey goalie Michael Santaguida stopped 31 Nanaimo shots to earn his fifth shutout of the playoffs.
Surrey regained their winning groove Monday night when a fast start was enough to carry the Eagles to a 5-3 win over the winless Pistons.
Brady Shaw scored 65 seconds after the opening face-off and the Eagles kept up the pressure in building a 3-0 second period lead before Steinbach began to rally.
The Pistons scored late in the second period and added another goal shortly after the end of the second intermission to cut Surrey's lead to a single goal.
Trevor Cameron's second goal of the game gave the Eagles some breathing room, but the Pistons answered on the powerplay to once again pull to within a goal.
Steinbach outshot Surrey 16-9 in the final frame but Stenerson ended the Pistons' comeback attempt with an empty net goal in the final minute.
Tambellini and Brady Shaw rounded out the scoring for Surrey.
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