The title extends an unprecedented run of success atop the BCIHL, as the Saints are the first team in league history to ever record a championship three-peat.
“It's a really satisfying feeling to see the guys finish the season this way after all the work they put in,” says Selkirk head coach Alex Evin. “We played a really committed, disciplined style tonight and all through playoffs and we were rewarded for that. We kept shifts short, we were smart with the puck and we didn't give up anything easy on the defensive side.”
Third-year forward Thomas Hardy opened the scoring just 3:34 into the first period on a Selkirk power-play when he skated the puck through the slot and roofed a backhand shot past SFU goaltender Jordan Liem. It marked the only goal during a fast, back-and-forth 20 minutes that saw the Saints outshoot their visitors by a 13-10 margin.
The Clan regrouped at intermission and came close on a number of opportunities early in the second period before Jared Eng evened the score with 16:06 on the clock. The blueliner took advantage of some scrambly play in the Selkirk zone and fired a wrist shot through a crowd and past James Prigione.
The game remained tied until late in the period when the Saints took advantage of two SFU mistakes deep in their own zone.
First, Selkirk defenceman Lucas Hildebrand lifted a Clan stick to force a turnover and found rookie forward Jamie Vlanich alone in the slot, where he fired home from short range to restore the lead. And just 90 seconds later, Darnell Dyck capitalized on a failed clearing attempt by an opposition defender and fed Ryan Edwards for a tap-in at the side of the SFU net.
“It was an unlucky play by their player and the puck hopped off his stick,” says Dyck, who was the Saints top scorer during the regular season and added four more points during playoffs. “I had a lot of space and I was thinking shot, but I saw Eddy and moved it over to him. He's a great player and he scored so many big goals for us, so I knew he was going to finish it off.”
Edward's goal – which would ultimately stand as the game-winner – put the near-capacity crowd of over 900 into a frenzy. But they would have to sit through a tense third period in which the Saints frustrated SFU by plugging up the neutral zone and chewing time off the clock with disciplined, puck-possession play in the offensive zone.
Saints fans were finally able to exhale and relax with 46 seconds remaining in regulation when Ryan Procyshyn pounced on a loose puck and sent it into an empty net to push the score to 4-1. SFU would score a late goal from Adam Callegari with 20 seconds left, but the celebration was already well underway in the stands with the end result beyond doubt. As the seconds ticked down and the final horn blew, Selkirk players erupted off the bench to celebrate a remarkable end to their season.
“Playing in front of 800 fans last night and 900 tonight, it's unbelievable,” Dyck says. “We have the best fans in the league and you always know it's going to be loud when SFU comes to town. The whole team feeds off of that and it gives us a ton of confidence, knowing we have that support.”
The final shots on goal were 28-15 in favour of the Saints, who held SFU to just six shots in the third period as they pressed to get back in the game. But that didn't mean that it was a slow night for Prigione, who came up big when needed with some outstanding saves in the second period and limited Clan second chances throughout the series.
“SFU pushed back really hard after the first period and gave us a good run in the second,” says the Saints netminder. “But the boys played great in front of me and worked hard around the net to block shots and let me see the ones that got through. And in the third we didn't give them much.”
Prigione watched from the bench last season as All-Star starter Chris Hurry led Selkirk to their second BCIHL championship. This time around he thrived as the go-to guy, parlaying an outstanding regular season into a playoff run that saw him win all four starts while allowing just seven goals.
“It was a lot different feeling getting to be in there and make a difference,” he says. “Alex (Evin) showed a lot of confidence in me this season and that was big. I felt really good the second half of the season and just ran with it. It's an unbelievable feeling to win with such an awesome group of guys.”
The Saints appeared far from championship contention early in the season, as injuries and a spotty road record held the team close to the bottom of the league standings. But the squad finished off the fall semester on a high when they won their first-ever game against CIS competition at the University of Lethbridge and went on to earn home-ice advantage in the playoffs with a strong second half.
“We had a group that came together when it mattered most and really rose to the occasion,” says Evin. “Tonight we got great games from Jamie Vlanich and Ryan Procyshyn, and Ryan Edwards showed why he was our MVP over the last three months. James Prigione was rock solid and very consistent, which you need that when you're playing close games in the playoffs.”
The championship win was the third in as many years for a core of key players that included team captain Logan Proulx as well as forwards Thomas Hardy and Mason Spear and blueliner Lucas Hildebrand. It also marked the second title in as many tries for forward Darnell Dyck, defencemen Stefan Gonzales, Tanner Lenting, Ryan Procyshyn, Stefan Virtanen and Arie Postmus, plus goaltender James Prigione.
Tonight's win marked the final time that many in that group will suit up in a Saints uniform. They couldn't have asked for a better send-off.
“I want to thank Selkirk College, (athletics director) Kim Verigin and the coaches who gave me the opportunity to have two tremendous seasons here,” says Dyck, who plans on joining the RCMP once the school year concludes. “I got to play with some amazing players and win two championships with great teammates. It was an unbelievable experience!”