The Trinity Western University Spartans finished a hefty 21 points ahead of the Selkirk College Saints in the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) regular season. The upshot of matching up against tough odds in the first round of the playoffs is that once the puck drops to start the BCIHL semi-final between the Spartans and Saints, they embark at the exact same 0-0 score.
“It’s a reset button and that is the way we need to look at it,” says Saints head coach Dave Hnatiuk. “Every player on that bench needs to be going and playing at the top of their game. We don’t have six players in the top-10 of league scoring like Trinity does, we need to win by committee. Everybody needs to be doing their part.”
The Saints’ 7-13-0-4 regular season record was far from stellar and you would need to go back to 2011-2012 season to find a campaign that was less successful. A difficult schedule filled with several bye weeks made it tough for the team to gain any momentum in a league that features every other team based on Vancouver Island or the Lower Mainland. A lack of scoring didn’t help much either.
Despite a challenging regular season, Hnatiuk says when the series opens this Thursday night at the Langley Events Centre, the defending league champion Spartans have much more to lose in the three-game series than his club.
“It’s not going to be easy, but we think we can beat them,” says the rookie head coach. “They are 10-5 in the second half which means they have had a bit of a slowdown and on the other side, we have progressed. We know it is a very big task, but if we all buy in and get everybody going then we have an opportunity. It just depends on what we want to do with this opportunity.”
Trinity Western University has captured the last two BCIHL championships. In 2018, the Spartans beat the Saints 2-0 in the season-ending series to capture the school’s first title. Last season they took out Vancouver Island University in two straight games to hoist the trophy once again.
The Spartans have two of the league’s top-three point producers with Evan Last and Logan Casavant to go along with the BCIHL’s best performing goaltender duo in Lucas Mills and Isaac LaBelle. The four-year school scored a whopping 122 goals while only allowing a stingy 65 into their own net.
Dylan Heppler and rookie Jaiden LaPorte helped lead the Saints in scoring this year, finishing 11th and 14th in the league respectively. Selkirk College goaltender Tallon Kramer has been a workhorse between the pipes, appearing in all but two of his team’s games and facing a total of 734 shots, 173 more than the stopper with the second most saves.
Despite the statistics showing strong leanings towards Trinity Western University, Hnatiuk is boarding the bus to the Lower Mainland feeling optimistic.
“I believe in our group and I am not just saying that trying to give false hope,” he says. “I have seen us play some really good hockey and if we play that way then I like chances… underdog or no underdog.”
Perhaps the most significant advantage Selkirk College has heading into the playoffs is that the BCIHL post-season is a relatively brief tournament. The task for the ultimate champion is to win two best-of-three series. It’s a fact filled with hope.
“I’m glad that we only have to beat Trinity twice rather than four times,” Hnatiuk says with a smile. “We have had some close games with them this year and have shown that we can play with them.”
The other BCIHL semi-final features the Simon Fraser University Clan taking on the Vancouver Island University Mariners. The winner of the semi-final series will play for the championship on the March 20-22 weekend.