Winning a championship happens on the ice, but it’s off the ice where the culture to get a team to the title is built.
As the Selkirk College Saints prepare for their home opener of the 2019-2020 British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) season this weekend, the foundation has been successfully laid for the 25 players who hope to end the campaign by hoisting the championship trophy.
“We have a really good culture in the room,” says Saints’ captain Parker Wakaruk. “There are a lot of new guys who have brought fresh energy and new dynamics. We have a new coach and a new logo on the front of our jerseys, there is a new excitement around the team this year.”
The Saints finished second overall in the 2018-2019 regular season before being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Vancouver Island University. In the off-season, the team hired new head coach Dave Hnatiuk and added 14 first-year BCIHL players to the roster.
“We’re always going to be that young team because we compete against four-year schools,” says Hnatiuk, who was an assistant coach at the University of Regina prior to arriving at Selkirk College. “The challenge is to learn the systems and play into the systems right away in a short season. You will see some growing pains in early games, but we are playing hard and competing hard. Our confidence will develop as the season goes on.”
This year’s edition of the Saints boasts a strong defensive unit that is anchored by Wakaruk who enters his third BCIHL season after earning all-star nods at the end of each of the last two campaigns. With veteran goaltender Tallon Kramer between the pipes, the Saints are expected to be solid in their own end.
Up front, local hockey fans will see the return of a trio of forwards who helped the 2017-2018 Beaver Valley Nitehawks to a Junior B provincial championship. Second-year Selkirk College forwards Dylan Heppler and Nolan Percival have been reunited with first-year Blake Sidoni who has come back to the West Kootenay after finishing his junior career with the Virdin Oil Capitals in Manitoba. Edward Lindsey is back for a second season in his hometown after leading the Saints in scoring last season, topping the BCIHL in goals and earning an all-star nod from the league at the end of the season.
As the team has done over the course of the last eight seasons—including four straight BCIHL championships between 2013 and 2016—the Saints can be counted on to be the hardest working team in the league.
“We play a high energy, fast paced game,” says Hnatiuk. “That was a culture that was already here when I arrived. The guys work hard in practice and that results in us playing a solid 60-minute game. Whatever is in the water here is working.”
Coming from a post-secondary background, Hnatiuk has also placed a heightened level of importance on what happens off the ice.
“We need to have a balance because academics is why they are here and that needs to be a priority,” he says. “They need to do well in school because if you are doing well in school then it transfers over to the rink.”
With injuries to three key players, the Saints limped out of the gate this past weekend on a trip to the west coast for the start of the BCIHL regular season, dropping a 4-2 decision to the University of Victoria and a following it up with 6-2 loss to Vancouver Island University.
This weekend’s competition is the University of Victoria, a team that features former Selkirk College and Nelson Leafs forward Sawyer Hunt. The puck drops at 7 p.m. at the Castlegar & District Recreation Centre both Friday and Saturday night.