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The Selkirk College Saints locked up home ice advantage in the first round of the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League playoffs after two huge wins on Vancouver Island this past weekend.
The Saints headed west to take on the University of Victoria Vikes in a two-game set that was pivotal in determining what team would host the BCIHL semi-final when the post-season begins on March 6. Determined to play in front of their boisterous home fans at the Castlegar Recreation Complex, the Saints made a statement with a 7-1 win on Friday night and 6-2 dismantling of the Vikes on Saturday afternoon.
“We knew where we were in the standings,” says Saints head coach Alex Evin. “We stressed that we needed to be prepared to battle and do what it took to get the points to get us home ice. The guys were really prepared and it made for some fun hockey to watch as a coach.”
In Friday night’s game, the Saints managed to shake off the bus legs in the opening period when Darnell Dyck and defenceman Stefan Gonzales scored in the first 20 minutes. The Saints widened the gap in the middle frame when Gonzales notched his second of the night and rookie Ryan Edwards scored with less than a minute left in the period.
Leaving nothing to chance, the Saints increased the lead to 6-0 early in the third on goals by Marc-Antoine Guimond and Stefan Virtanen. The Vikes finally got on the board just over five minutes into the final period when Luciano Sommerville beat Saints’ starter James Prigione. Veteran Saints forward Thomas Hardy closed out the scoring to make the final 7-1.
“We wanted to go right after Victoria, we have an aggressive forecheck when it’s executed properly,” says Evin. “We did just that, turning pucks over and scoring goals early.”
Saints too much to handle
The swarming Saints attack was back on Saturday afternoon and had the Vikes on their heels from the opening whistle. Edwards started the rampage two minutes into the game when he was set up by linemates Darnell Dyck and Logan Proulx. The Saints then notched four unanswered goals — Matt Martin, Dyck, Tyler Kerner and Proulx — before the Vikes finally got on the board with a Carsen Willans goal.
The teams exchanged goals in the second period — James Tindle for Victoria and Edwards for Selkirk — and after a scoreless final period, the game ended 6-2. Prigione picked up his ninth win of the season and currently leads the BCIHL in goals against average at 2.33.
“When we are all on the same page and executing, we’re a great team to watch and we are really hard to play against,” says Evin. “We are starting play with a little more grit, which really adds to our skill and speed.”
The Saints are 6-0-1 in their last seven games and after an inconsistent first semester have found their stride. Injuries to key players like defenceman Ryan Procyshyn and rookie forward Jamie Vlanich in the first half of the season didn’t help, but it’s a new focus that has the coaching staff optimistic heading into the playoffs.
“We’ve made some adjustments to our attitude, our approach and our commitment to the way we want to play,” says Evin. “It’s definitely showing in the results in the last two months.”
Top line producing
One of the factors in the Saints’ offensive success is the emergence of the top line of Edwards, Proulx and Dyck. Evin put the combination together seven games ago and the trio have been on a tear. All three are currently in the top-ten of league scoring.
The key to the line has been the play of Edwards, a Trail native who had an impressive junior career in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League as a member of the powerhouse Beaver Valley Nitehawks. Edwards amassed 249 points in 171 career regular season KIJHL games, but more importantly is a proven playoff performer who averaged two points a game in the post-season.
“Ryan has been awesome,” says Evin. “He showed a lot of signs of that in the first semester, but there were things that held him back from taking control of hockey games. He’s really maturing as a person and a hockey player, his patience is starting to pay off for him.”
The solid play of the team’s top line has enabled the Saints to spread out their attack, an important quality heading into the playoffs.
“We’re at our best when we can play five-on-five and roll through our entire line-up,” says Evin. “The other three lines have been playing as well as our top line, but maybe playing a bit of a different role. You can’t have a team full of 50-goal scorers, we have a lot of players that play in the tough areas and that tends to go unnoticed on the scoresheet.”
The Saints wrap up the regular season this Saturday when they travel to Cheney, Wash. to take on the Eastern Washington University Eagles. The Saints will then host either the University of Victoria or Simon Fraser University in the best-of-three BCIHL semi-final which will take place on March 6, March 7 and March 8 (if necessary).
If successful in the semi-final, the Saints will be off to the BCIHL final March 13 to 15 in hopes of capturing a third straight league championship.