Devon Toews describes the Surrey Eagles’ run to the RBC Cup, Canada’s junior A hockey championship tournament, as “a bit of an underdog story.”
The Eagles, after all, weren’t mentioned in the national top-20 rankings to start the season, and they didn’t make their first appearance until mid-January.
And yet here they are, one of five teams still alive in the quest for a national title, the B.C. Hockey League and Western Canada Cup trophies already secured.
“We’ve had a good year,” noted Toews, a smooth-skating 19-year-old defenceman from Abbotsford. “We were never ranked high in Canada – we were always behind Victoria and Penticton (among B.C. teams). But it seemed like we took the league by storm.”
The underdog label that Toews applies to his team also suits him pretty well individually.
In 2009, he helped the Abbotsford Hawks win the B.C. bantam Tier 1 title and finish second at the Western Canadians, but he was passed over in the WHL bantam draft due to his diminutive stature (5’2″).
But he sprouted eight inches over the next two years, and has grown into an elite blueliner in the junior A ranks.
Toews racked up 10 goals and 37 assists for 47 points in 48 games with the Eagles during the 2012-13 regular season and was named top defenceman in the BCHL’s Coastal Conference.
He added nine more points in 17 BCHL playoff games as Surrey won the Fred Page Cup, and posted six assists in five games at the Western Canada Cup in Nanaimo as the Eagles emerged victorious to punch their ticket to the RBC Cup. Toews was named MVP of the Western Canada Cup and was a member of the all-tournament team.
“I’ve always been looked at as a smaller D-man who wasn’t big enough for the WHL draft,” he said, reflecting on his remarkable rise. “So I went the BCHL route. Things went well, and in my second year in Surrey here, I got the perfect opportunity to be the No. 1 D-man.
“I’ve been given opportunities, and the team’s played well, which makes me look even better.”
If Toews’s present circumstances are pretty rosy, the future might be even brighter.
He’s got a full-ride scholarship in place from the Quinnipiac University Bobcats, an NCAA Division 1 program in Hamden, Conn. The Bobcats are coming off an appearance in the NCAA national championship game, where they fell to Yale University.
The downside to Quinnipiac’s defeat is that Toews’s defence partner with the Eagles, Dan O’Keefe, has committed to Yale.
“It was in the middle of the playoffs, and we were heading up to Penticton,” Toews recalled with a chuckle. “I had to wear a Yale shirt all day, because Quinnipiac lost.
“But everything’s worked out this year. My team’s played well, my university’s done well, so it seems like I’m in a good spot right now.”
The RBC Cup opens this Saturday in Summerside, P.E.I., and the Eagles will be joined by the Brooks (Alta.) Bandits, the Truro (N.S.) Bearcats, the Minnesota Wilderness and the host Summerside Western Capitals. The championship game is Sunday, May 19.