CASTLEGAR — The Selkirk College Saints will begin their pursuit of British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) history at home this Friday night when they open the post-season against the Vancouver Island University (VIU) Mariners.
After winning four-straight league championships and establishing the BCIHL gold standard, the Saints’ drive-for-five came to a sudden halt last March when they were knocked out of the playoffs by Trinity Western University. The student-athletes have a shot at redemption when the puck drops on the best-of-three BCIHL semi-final on Friday at 7:30 p.m. against the Mariners at the Castlegar & District Recreation Complex.
“This is what we have been working towards since we pulled this group together in August,” says Saints head coach Brent Heaven. “It’s been a bit of a wild regular season with plenty of ups and downs. Now we have two weeks to show that this team has the right mix to bring a championship back to Castlegar.”
The Saints needed to beat VIU in the last regular season game on Saturday night in Castlegar to ensure a second-place finish and home ice during the first round. Before a crowd that featured former players brought together for the annual Alumni Night, the home side came out determined to send a strong message.
Defenceman Seth Schmidt opened the scoring six minutes into the first period when he recorded a powerplay marker. A minute later, first-year forward Tyler Hartman made the score 2-0 and before the period ended captain Dallas Calvin scored the Saints’ third goal. The Saints peppered VIU starting goaltender Brett Clark with 19 shots in the opening frame.
“We’ve had some slow starts this season and it has come back to haunt us,” says Heaven.
“The players were not going to leave anything to chance in a game that had such importance.”
Penalty problems in the second period slowed the Saints progress and opened the door for the Mariners who scored late in the stanza when Kobe Oishi beat Selkirk College starter Patrick Zubick on the powerplay to cut the lead to 3-1 after 40 minutes.
The typically feisty game between the two teams became apparent in the third period, but the Saints didn’t lose focus and dominated play with Calvin adding two more goals to make the final 5-1.
“It was great to see the leadership in our dressing room come through in a big game,” says Heaven. “Everyone knew the importance of home ice for the playoffs and it resulted in one of our best efforts of the season.”
On Friday, the league announced that the Simon Fraser University Clan forfeited 19 points after it was determined that an ineligible player competed in 11 regular season games. That knocked the Clan — who were destined to be the Saints semi-final opponent — down to fifth place in the standings and moved VIU up to third place.
The Mariners are a first-year BCIHL team but have quickly established a spirited rivalry with the Saints. Several former Saints now suit up for VIU, including last year’s captain Tyler Kerner, which has added an extra level of intensity during their contests. With a 17-8-0-0 record, the Mariners finished four points behind the Saints who finished the season with a record of 18-5-0-2. The season series between the two teams saw the Saints emerge with a 4-1 advantage.
“They are a very good team that exceeded the expectations of many,” says Heaven. “I’m expecting a great series, we will have to play our best hockey of the season if we want to move onto the league championship.”
In the other league semi-final, first-place Trinity Western University will take on defending champion University of Victoria, who were out of the playoff picture until last week’s SFU decision. “Home ice advantage in the playoffs is massively important for our team because we have the best fans in the league,” says Heaven. “The energy in the arena helps the players on the ice and they are looking forward to this coming weekend.”
Friday night’s Game One starts at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday’s game starts at 4:00 p.m. in order to accommodate the Castlegar Rebels KIJHL playoff game against the Nelson Leafs. If a Game Three is necessary, it will be played at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. All games are at the Castlegar & District Recreation Complex.
The Saints are in pursuit of their fifth BCIHL championship title which would make them the most decorated team in league history.