Sitting in the middle of the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) pack, the Selkirk College Saints have embarked on the second half of the season with one goal in mind.
“We need to get ourselves prepared for a playoff run,” says Saints head coach Brent Heaven. “There is only so much we control and that is how we play the game. We can’t worry about what other teams are doing and simply play the game that we have designed for this group. We need to get ourselves in a spot where we can compete in the playoffs and you never know what can happen when you get there.”
Over the last few campaigns, the Saints have entered the Winter Semester side of the season as one of the favoured teams to end the year with a championship. With the departure of more than half of last year’s team to transfer schools and careers, this year’s edition of Saints is packed with BCIHL freshmen.
With ten games left in the regular season, the stretch drive to the early-March playoffs promises to be more dramatic than ever.
The Saints opened the second half of the season in the Lower Mainland on Friday night and were clobbered 9-2 by league leading Trinity Western University. The Selkirk College club rebounded on Saturday with a gritty 2-1 victory that featured 37 saves by second-year goaltender Patrick Zubick.
“We were still in holiday-mode and forgot how the Saints play hockey, but we bounced back and played well against Simon Fraser,” says Heaven. “We are now looking to build on that moving forward for the rest of the second half. It all comes down to work ethic and desire to compete, if you want to be successful then you have to work hard for it.”
The next test will be this weekend when the University of Victoria Vikes arrive to the West Kootenay for a two-game set on Friday and Saturday night at the Castlegar & District Recreation Centre. Though the Vikes currently sit last in the league with only two wins, a pair of victories is essential if the third place Saints want to establish a comfortable playoff position.
“It’s a huge weekend, we want to stay in the middle of the pack and push for home-ice in the playoffs,” says Heaven, who has watched his team put together a 6-5-0-3 record to this point. “Our home record [5-1-0-2] has been strong over the year and we have comfort zone at the Castlegar arena, a lot of that has to do with the great support we get from the crowd. We have to make these home games count.”
The Saints will have to strive for success without the team’s first half leading scorer. Lethbridge native Andrew Thompson headed back to Alberta for the holiday break where the Electrical Program student was offered a job that helped further his career and decided to stay.
“These young men are here because they are looking to start their careers,” says Heaven. “That’s why they come to school and they need to do what is best for them in terms of taking opportunities when they come up. He was a great player for us, but we are happy that he is getting this opportunity.”
Helping fill the offensive void will be former Nelson Leafs forward Sawyer Hunt who returned to the West Kootenay after spending a semester at Calgary’s Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT). The leading scorer for the Leafs last season, Hunt now joins a Saints roster that includes two other forwards who also led their teams in scoring during the 2017-2018 Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) regular season with Edward Lindsey (Castlegar Rebels) and Dylan Heppler (Beaver Valley Nitehawks).
“It’s a great opportunity to bring in another local player and we are happy to have Sawyer on the roster for the second half,” says Heaven. “He has not played at a competitive level for a few months, but we’re confident that it won’t take long for him to regain his scoring touch.”
The Saints host the University of Victoria Vikes on Friday and Saturday (January 11/12) at the Castlegar & District Recreation Centre with the puck dropping at 7 p.m. both nights. This will be one of only two home weekends of the second half of the season.