By: Dylan Webb
The SFU hockey team returned from their brief winter break from academic and athletic duties to play the two most important games of their BCIHL season thus far. Facing off against the league-leading Trinity Western University (TWU) Spartans on Thursday night and another of their main rivals, the Selkirk Saints, at home on Saturday, SFU hoped to leapfrog their Castlegar-based nemesis in the standings and turn the page on a disappointing first half of the season.
Unfortunately for SFU fans, a couple of tight, one-goal games over the opening weekend of 2019 play left the Clan earning just two of four points. This showing means that SFU will continue to occupy the fourth playoff seed, at least for now.
On the upside, defeating the Trinity Western Spartans for the first time in four regular-season matchups (with the exception of a September exhibition win) gives the team at least one win over each of their four BCIHL opponents this year, demonstrating their ability to grind out a victory against any team in the league. In a league with few teams, intense rivalries, and playoffs on the horizon, this is certainly an important Clan milestone.
On Thursday night at the Langley Events Centre, the Clan came out of the gates hard and had their first period of play in 2019 as one of their best periods of play this regular season. Supported by the first-period tallies from Eric Callegari and team point leader Nic Holowko, veteran Graham Smerek would add another early in the second to give the Clan a three-goal lead.
Following the first 25 minutes of action, team system play loosened up a bit for the road team, resulting in a much tighter result than the team would have hoped for. The team continued to add offense throughout the final two frames, consisting of first career BCIHL goals for both Kyle Bergh and Jakob Krannabetter, as well as a first BCIHL point for defenseman Daniyal Nussipakynov; however, SFU also collectively committed several defensive breakdowns. These allowed Trinity Western to score four goals within the second half of the game, including two in the final five minutes.
Regardless of the less than ideal fashion the two points were earned in, handing the league-leading Spartans their second regulation loss of the entire season, a 5–4 nail-biter, certainly built momentum to kick off the 2019 portion of the schedule.
On Saturday night, however, a low-scoring affair between two teams battling for playoff position ended in favour of the visitors sending the Bill Copeland crowd home disappointed that the Clan were unable to defeat Selkirk at home for a second time this season. Forward Jaret Babych had the lone goal for the Clan as they struggled to penetrate scoring areas and were kept to the perimeter for much of the game despite sending 33 shots on net. Two second-period goals from Saints forward Edward Lindsey were all the Saints would need offensively to secure the 2–1 victory as they benefited from a strong goaltending performance of their own.
Starting both games in goal for the Clan, Michael Lenko had one of the best weekends of play of his first BCIHL season. Stopping 56 of 62 shots over the span of both games, Lenko enabled his team to secure the three-goal lead in Langley on Thursday with a stellar first period. On Saturday, holding the Saint offense to just two goals, Lenko, again, suffered from a general lack of offensive support from his teammates.
Asked about the most important improvements and adjustments the team made coming in to their fourth game of the year against TWU, Lenko pointed to a more “complete game” while the fact that the team did a better job of “keeping [their] emotions in check and therefore staying out of the box.” Looking ahead to key matchups with the two Vancouver Island teams, Lenko acknowledged that there is “still work to do with ensuring that [the team plays] a full 60 minutes as a team and clean up the little mistakes that can end up in the back of [their] own net”.
SFU now faces a thirteen-day break from regular season action before returning to the ice on Vancouver Island. After visiting the recently upgraded UVIC Vikes on Friday, January 18, the team will head to Nanaimo for their fourth game of the season against the VIU Mariners.
The Clan, as mentioned, continue to occupy the fourth and last playoff seed in the BCIHL standings, which would likely mean a first-round matchup with the powerhouse TWU Spartans against which the team currently holds a 1–3 regular season record. Despite this, they still have plenty of time to make up ground with 1–2 games in hand on each of their competitors.
After the Vancouver Island double-header, the team returns home to Bill Copeland Sports Centre for the fifth and penultimate match up with the league leading TWU Spartans the following weekend on January 26.