The Selkirk College Saints kept their first-place hopes alive with a pair of victories over southern rival Eastern Washington University in a home-and-home weekend series.
With the stretch drive to the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) post-season now underway, the Saints covet home-ice advantage for the playoffs and currently sit four points behind first place Trinity Western University. With a 6-1 win over Eastern Washington on Friday night at the Castlegar & District Recreation Centre and a 6-3 road victory in Cheney on Sunday afternoon, the Saints remain within striking distance of their regular season goal.
“It was a big, big weekend for us,” says Saints’ head coach Brent Heaven. “Starting off the new year against Trinity Western the weekend before and losing two very close games, it wasn’t the result we wanted and put us in a bit of a deficit position. These four points were huge and we needed them to stay in the hunt.”
The Eagles jumped out to the lead on Friday night when Colton St. John scored a shorthanded goal nine minutes into the first period beating Saints’ starter Brett Huber on a breakaway. Six minutes later, Brandon Sookro tied the score when he misdirected a Jackson Bruce-Fuoco point shot.
The middle frame was all Saints as they fired 20 shots on Eastern Washington goaltenders. Seth Schmidt, Jonas Horvath, Cole Arcuri and Grant Iles all found the back of the net to give the Saints a 5-1 lead after 40 minutes. Sookro scored his second of the game in the final period when he stuffed away a rebound to make the final 6-1.
Friday night’s contest was a feisty affair with both teams throwing big hits and showing little love for their cross border post-secondary peers.
“We have played each other so many times over the years, we have a pretty good rivalry and intensity between these two teams,” says Heaven.
Sunday afternoon’s rematch in Cheney started in similar fashion with the Eagles scoring five minutes into the game on the powerplay when Austin Breen beat Saints’ starter Patrick Zubick. Arcuri tied the score ten minutes later, but Joseph Porco scored with two seconds remaining in the first period to give the home side a 2-1 edge.
As they did on Friday, the Saints owned the second period scoring four goals to take a 5-2 lead after 20 minutes. Arcuri, Horvath, Jack Mills and Dane Feeney all registered tallies. The teams exchanged goals in the third period with Parker Wakaruk scoring for Selkirk College.
The Saints entered the weekend without captain and BCIHL leading scorer Dallas Calvin in the line-up due to an upper body injury. On his first shift of Friday night’s game, sniper Derek McPhail was ejected from the game after a spirited open ice hit that also resulted in a game suspension on Sunday. Calvin and McPhail are two-thirds of the league’s most explosive line and accounted for one-third of the team’s total goals coming into the weekend.
“When those players are in the line-up, there is no doubt we rely on them and all the players have a strong connection to them,” says Heaven. “But the group needs to know that everybody needs to step up when there is adversity and you need to be prepared for it. This weekend we were prepared for it and the results were excellent.”
Veteran forwards Feeney and Mills stood out over the two games with newcomers Logan Styler and Arcuri also helping fill the holes on offence.
Next up is a Saturday night match-up against the Simon Fraser University Spartans who currently trail the Saints by eight points in the standings. The Spartans have two games in hand and will be looking to close the gap in their quest for a home-ice advantage come March.
“Every game is a playoff-type game now,” says Heaven. “We just need to make sure we focus on the task at hand and not look down the road. The task this weekend is SFU and it’s a big game, so we will need to play well and come out of the weekend with success.”
Saturday’s game starts at 7 p.m. at the Castlegar & District Recreation Centre. It will be the Saints last home game until February 24.