The Trinity Western University Spartans snapped an historic British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) streak on Friday night, scoring a 6-1 victory over the Selkirk College Saints to secure the semi-final series sweep.
The Saints entered the BCIHL post-season with four straight championship titles and looking to complete a fifth. The Spartans put a kink in the plan Thursday night when they opened the series with a 4-1 win at Langley’s George Preston Recreation Centre and followed it up with the series clincher the next night.
“Obviously everyone involved is disappointed in the outcome,” says Saints head coach Brent Heaven. “Expectations were very high this year and we were hoping to pull off the fifth-straight championship. With all the adversity we faced this year—losing players to injury and other issues—it just made it really difficult. We were hoping to peak at the right time, but we just couldn’t get the puck in the net and had a really tough time keeping it out of our net this last weekend.”
On Friday night, Trinity Western got off to a fast start with three unanswered goals in the first period. Despite out-shooting the Spartans in the second and third period, the Saints could not mount a comeback. Rookie forward Jack Mills scored early in the third period that saw the Saints fire 18 shots at Trinity Western goaltender Silas Matthys.
Needing a win to stay alive, the Saints managed 17 shots in the first period of game 2, but still found themselves behind 1-0 after 20 minutes. Five minutes into the second period, Dane Feeney scored for the Saints to make the score 2-1. The Spartans responded with four straight goals, three of them on the powerplay, to secure the series win.
“It’s humbling and upsetting,” Heaven says of the mood in the dressing room after the game two loss.
“There are a good chunk of guys in that room who will be graduating from the program and it’s an emotional time for those players. For some, it is the end of their competitive hockey career and they have been playing hockey since they were four or five years old. They have spent a lot of their lives on the ice and being part of a team… for it to end abruptly like that, it’s going to take some time for that to set in.”
After dominating the BCIHL over the previous four seasons, the Saints had a challenging 2016-2017 season. The biggest blow came early in the new year when prodigious scorer Dallas Calvin was lost with a season-ending injury. The Saints ended up finishing third in the regular season standings (14-9-0-1) and for the first time in five seasons did not host a semi-final series at the Castlegar & District Recreation Complex.
“Every season is completely different, but nothing can ever be expected like this,” Heaven says of the adversity. “It was a tough year for us, but the guys really battled hard and there was a compete level that you take a lot of pride in. There’s a box that didn’t get checked off at the end of the year, and it’s something that we are going to re-focus our energies on for the season coming up. But I’m proud of these guys, proud of the way they competed and handled themselves as men. The direction they are all moving in their personal lives is positive.”
Players will now focus their energy on the final weeks of school and the coaching staff will continue the ongoing process of recruiting new student athletes to the program. With almost half of the team expected to graduate — including third-year forwards Ryan Edwards, Tyler Kerner, Alex Milligan, Mitch Rosko and Matt Martin — the emphasis will be on bolstering the offense.
“We will continue to focus on building a strong program with character individuals,” says Heaven, who completed his second season as head coach. “We’ll take a look back at the season and see where it differed from years previous. We will see what we need to do to rectify those issues and bring in a competitive group for next year.”
The BCIHL final will feature Trinity Western University and the University of Victoria, the latter pulling off the upset of first-place Simon Fraser University last weekend. Trinity Western University features Lucas Hildebrand and Stefan Gonzales, both former Saints who helped Selkirk College win championships.