By: Dylan Webb
After the SFU Hockey team underperformed through the first 11 games of the 2018–19 BCIHL season, turning the page to the season’s second half should have been their much needed reset. Instead, SFU’s struggling more intensely than ever, and the team’s hold on a playoff spot is weakening as they stumble into 2019 with a 1–3 losing record.
Though the Clan the year on a positive note with a much-needed win against the league-leading Trinity Western University (TWU) Spartans, that victory has been quickly overshadowed by three straight losses to weaker opponents.
On Friday night in Victoria, SFU fell by a score of 4–3 to the last-place UVIC Vikes. In this game, SFU couldn’t muster the effort that had let them defeat the Vikes in their previous two meetings this season. Following the loss, unfortunately for fans of Clan hockey, SFU travelled up the island to Nanaimo, where they would succumb to another tight, one-goal loss. Visiting the VIU Mariners on Saturday, SFU lost after the Clan allowed a staggering 45 shots on net.
This worst-case weekend scenario for SFU means that the team is now entrenched in the fourth playoff seed, dreams of catching TWU for a first-place finish quickly fading. At least for now, the focus of the Clan shifts to simply securing a playoff spot in the face of the resurgent UVIC Vikes, who now sit only six points back from the Clan for the final playoff seed.
Friday night in Victoria had Clan goaltender Ryan Sandrin drawing his fourth start of the season with his perfect 3–0 record put to the test. Making 13 saves on 17 shots in his third start of the campaign against UVIC, Sandrin’s record fell to 3–1 as he and the Clan were unable to defeat the Vikes for the third time this season. While the Clan started the game with an early, unassisted tally from newly-added forward Kyle Bergh, the first period was the determining factor in the loss. Allowing three goals on nine shots in the opening frame, including a short-hander, SFU shot themselves in the foot early and were never able to recover from the early deficit.
On Saturday night, the Clan’s struggles continued in another nail-biter decided by just one goal. Motivated by a raucous home crowd, the VIU Mariners peppered the Clan net throughout the game which allowed them to break through for five goals. While SFU forwards Mitch Ledyard and Jakob Krannabetter each tallied in the first period, porous defensive coverage allowed VIU to match them with goals from forwards Kobe Oishi and Dylan McCann.
After trading two goals each again in the second period, SFU fell 5–4 after a lone third-period marker from VIU forward Brett Witala gave the Mariners enough breathing room to grind out the win despite a late push from the Clan. Goaltender Michael Lenko made 40 saves in the loss, bringing his record on the year to 4–7 with a 3.84 GAA and a .878 save percentage.
Following the second loss of the weekend to VIU, mounting frustration was palpable in the Clan dressing room with coach Mark Coletta imploring his team to “come together for each other” so that the Clan can come closer to achieving their potential as one of the “fastest and most skilled teams the BCIHL has ever seen.”
When asked about the most pressing areas of play needing improvement by the Clan as the playoff race intensifies, Coletta pointed to team unity, disciplined systems play, and, more than anything else, the rekindling of an undeniable desire to win as key adjustments the team needs to make in order to increase the likelihood of the team clinching a playoff spot early and continuing to battle for more favourable seeding.
SFU now looks ahead to hosting the league-leading TWU Spartans on Saturday, January 26. While the possibility of catching the Spartans in the league standings is increasingly out of reach, the game does present the Clan with an opportunity to defeat their main rival for a second time in a row, solidify their playoff spot, and set the tone for what is possibly going to be a first-round playoff matchup between the two teams.
Following the match-up with the Spartans, the Clan will gear up for a carbon copy of the road trip they just completed, with the necessity of securing four points intensified further after a poor showing this weekend. As the playoff race intensifies, the Clan must find a way to harness their speed, skill, and depth to get on a roll as the calendar creeps toward the playoff month of March.