By: Dylan Webb
SFU hockey continued to roll through 2018 with a 5–2 win over the last-place Eastern Washington Eagles on Friday night in Cheney. A two-goal night from Jaret Babych supplemented by a goal from Nic Holowko in his Clan debut led the offence as the team inched toward clinching a playoff spot. Eric Callegari put home the game-winning goal at 4:12 of the second period as SFU continued its dominance over the only non-Canadian team in the BC Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL).
While the Clan fell behind early, Babych potted his first of two in the game to tie things up just four minutes in. Mathew Berry-Lamontagna also scored in the first to ensure the teams were on even footing heading into the second. SFU had set a tone of dominance in the first period by outshooting their opponent 22–9 despite not taking the lead until the second.
The second period saw Babych unsheathe his ever-dangerous sword once more to provide some insurance late in the frame with the 4–2 goal. Unlike the games last weekend against the Spartans and Vikes in which the Clan had to constantly kill off an excess of penalties, far more disciplined play allowed the team to overcome some early adversity to grind down the Eagles and secure the result late in the second. The team would ride out the second period lead to victory and bring themselves within a point of clinching a playoff spot — a point they would not have to wait long to have an opportunity to earn.
After the win in Eastern Washington, the Clan hopped on the bus for a game in Castlegar against the second-place Saints that they hope to chase down by the end of the season in order to secure home ice advantage in the playoffs. Despite the importance of the win and two points in Cheney, this was the big game of the weekend as the Clan ramped up their efforts to make up ground on the Selkirk Saints for second place in the league.
The Clan went down 2–0 early on back-to-back goals by Saints player Seth Schmidt before Mak Barden responded to trim the lead to one. Schmidt scored both goals in the first half of the second as SFU found themselves trying to get out of a hole. The goal by Barden, set up by defenceman Austin Adam, cut the Saints lead in half before the first intermission, but the Clan would continue to play from behind most of the game.
After the teams traded power play goals in the second period, Barden would equal Babych’s two-goal performance from the night before. Tyler Basham also scored, as the two veteran forwards gave the team a one goal lead late in the third in a building that is notoriously hard for visiting teams to play in. Unfortunately for SFU fans, the Saints would proceed to tie the game very late in the third period to force overtime. The tying goal by Saints forward Brandon Sookro was his first of two in the late stages of the game. In the extra frame, it didn’t take long for Sookro to strike again as he netted the overtime winner to earn himself first-star accolades, the game-winning goal, and send the Clan home disappointed that they were unable to make up ground on their second-place rivals.
Despite the frustration of the loss, there was a silver lining for Simon Fraser as the single point gained in the OT loss officially clinched their berth in the 2017/18 BCIHL playoffs. When asked about this, multiple players agreed that the Clan are not satisfied with simply clinching a playoff spot and have bigger aspirations for the remaining seven games of the regular season. While the likelihood of a first-place finish in the league by the end of the regular season is increasingly small with the dominance of the Trinity Western University Spartans lately, the Clan still believe they have what it takes to go on a run, take over second place, and push the Spartans down the stretch in a battle for first.
With a key win in Cheney and a tight overtime loss in Castlegar, the team continued to enjoy much-needed consistency in goal as Stanwood made his sixth and seventh starts of January and his 12th and 13th in a row. With the victory in Cheney, he picked up his 10th win of the season while making 29 saves. The team continues to rely heavily on Stanwood as they now have clinched a playoff spot and turn their eyes toward a drive for second in the league and home ice advantage in the first round as the regular season winds down with only seven games left to play for SFU.
With the win and OT loss on the weekend, Simon Fraser moves to an 11–6–1 record in BCIHL regular season play. With a 5–1–1 record in January, there is little doubt that SFU has rounded into form in the second half of the season culminating in an early clinch of a playoff spot.
When asked about key factors in the teams overall improvement throughout the second half, despite some speed bumps, forward Ryker Moreau said that its “as simple as just working harder and buying into our systems.” Now that the team has had the bulk of the season to build some chemistry, “it is the hard work in practice that is finally translating into games” that has Moreau and other players on the team excited about the possibilities for the regular season and, more importantly, playoffs.
While a regular season championship is increasingly out of reach, the team hopes to peak at the right time in order to be at their best when playoffs roll around in March. The struggle for playoff positioning continues next week as the Clan are back at it next Saturday when they return home to face the league leading Trinity Western Spartans at 7 p.m. at Bill Copeland Sports Centre.