The Selkirk College Saints disposed of the University of Victoria Vikes in the British Columbia Intercollegiate Junior Hockey League (BCIHL) semi-final over the weekend and will now compete for an unprecedented third straight league championship.
Playing before a raucous home crowd at the Castlegar Recreation Centre, the Saints triumphed 4-3 in a thrilling overtime game on Friday night and followed it up with a decisive 4-1 win on Saturday to claim the series sweep.
Selkirk College Saints goaltender James Prigione was instrumental in both victories over the University of Victoria Vikes in the BCIHL semi-final this past weekend at the Castlegar Recreation Centre. The Saints will now take on Simon Fraser University in the league championship starting on Friday night at 7 p.m. in Castlegar.
“There’s something about playoffs… the team gets into this mentality where we want to compete hard and it’s all about work ethic,” said defenceman Lucas Hildebrand, who was a key member of the Saints teams that captured BCIHL titles in the last two seasons. “It’s fun to be a part of and I’m having a blast.”
The Saints will now host the best-of-three BCIHL Championship starting Friday night against the Simon Fraser University Clan. The Clan finished fourth in the BCIHL regular season, but upset number-one seed Trinity Western in the other semi-final with two straight wins. The Saints gain home ice because they are the higher ranked team.
Vikes No Easy Mark
Before an ample and enthusiastic home crowd on Friday night, the Vikes jumped out to an early lead just over a minute into the game when Cameron Rowat benefited from some hard work by Carsen Willans and scored on Saints starter James Prigione.
The Saints won all four regular season games against the Vikes, but after the first period of the post season held the 1-0 lead and the edge in play. Prigione made several key saves in the opening 20 minutes and the Saints were outshot 13-8.
The Saints were pushed hard by the Vikes on Friday night, but the two-time defending BCIHL champions eventually triumphed.
Just under five minutes into the second period, Saints rookie Ryan Edwards got the crowd into the game by putting away a rebound off a shot from Ryan Procyshyn. The powerplay goal tied the game at ones and it would stay that way until the end of the middle frame.
The highlight reel goal of the evening came just over a minute into the third period when Darnell Dyck was sprung on an Arie Postmus breakaway pass at the blueline and scored while being hauled down.
The lead didn’t last long, four minutes later two former Nelson Leafs combined for the Vikes when Willans scored with help from Linden Horswill.
With the Vikes Thomas Cecchi in the box for tripping Edwards on a breakaway, the Saints took advantage of the powerplay. Thomas Hardy poked the puck five-hole on Vikes starter Scott Legault on a scramble in close at the midway mark of the period to make it 3-2 Saints.
The back-and-forth third continued just over a minute later. Vikes forward Shawn Mueller beat Prigione with a shot just inside the blueline to notch the score at fours.
The final shots after regulation had the Saints holding the edge at 30-23.
The Saints came into overtime determined to reward the raucous home crowd, controlling play from the start. Three minutes into the overtime, Edwards’ masterful deflection off a Tanner Lenting point shot emptied the Saints bench in a hurry.
“Lenting took a shot and I was just off the side of net, it was lucky enough to go off my stick and in,” said Edwards, who won a Kootenay Junior International Hockey League championship with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks last spring in his final season of junior. “It was crazy, the fans were crazy… it was one of the biggest goals I’ve scored.”
Saints Show Dominant Side on Saturday
Another rowdy crowd turned out Saturday night and the Saints didn’t disappoint.
As they did in the first game, the Vikes showed jump in the first half of the opening period. Prigione made a crucial save six minutes into the game when he stopped Vikes forward Mitchell Bell on a breakaway to keep the contest tied at zeroes.
Saints rookie Marc-Antoine Guimond is a key part of the tenacious forecheck that the Saints employ to wear the opponent down.
A thunderous hit midway through the first period by Saints forward Steven Pantazopoulous gave the home side a boost and from there Selkirk College went onto to dominate play.
With just over a minute left in the scoreless first, Dyck hit a streaking Logan Proulx with a pass at the blueline and the Saints captain made no mistake beating Vikes starter Legault to give the home team the advantage going into the dressing room.
Though the Saints controlled play in the second period, Legault kept his team close by making huge stops off Dyck and Edwards in the first half of the period. It was the Vikes who answered first in the middle stanza when an uncharacteristically sloppy defensive play by the Saints led to a Rowat goal with just over ten minutes to play in the period.
The lead would not even last two minutes thanks to a Matt Martin snapshot from the faceoff dot that beat Legault over the shoulder. Before the period ended, tenacious work by Mason Spear in the corner led to a Jamie Vlanich goal that made the score 3-1.
The Saints would ice the game in the final period when Spear tipped a Vlanich shot from the point on the powerplay to make the score 4-1.
“We kept it simple tonight,” said Hardy, who is in his third season with the Saints. “We went into this game knowing we had a chance to play for the championship at home, so we just kept it simple. It turned out well.”
A Three-Peat Within Reach
Since play started in the BCIHL in 2006, no team has won three straight championships. The Saints will have the opportunity to make history this weekend if they can triumph over the pesky Clan.
“Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought we would be in this position,” Hildebrand said after Saturday’s game. “When I came here, I didn’t really know what to expect. This third year has really opened up my eyes to how great this program has become. Everybody has done such a great job, starting with [Selkirk College Athletics Director] Kim [Verigin] and [Saints head coach] Alex [Evin], it’s just incredible to be part of it and I’m loving every minute of it.”
The Saints players agree that a key to their success is the tremendous fan support at the Castlegar Recreation Complex.
Hildebrand—who is in the Business Administration Program and plans to finish his degree at the University of Lethbridge next year—said it won’t be easy to add a third title to his hockey resume.
“Winning a championship is hard and this one is going to be at least as hard as the other ones,” Hildebrand said.
The edge Selkirk College needs to make history may very well come from what happens on the other side of the glass.
“Without a doubt we have the best fans in the league,” said Hardy. “We’re really excited to play for them and for our college, it’s going to be excellent next weekend.”
The puck drops on Game One at 7 p.m. at the Castlegar Recreation Centre on Friday night. Game Two will also start at 7 p.m. on Saturday and if necessary Game Three will be played on Sunday (time to be determined).