By: Dylan Webb
The 2018–19 BCIHL season was a bit of a rollercoaster ride for a SFU hockey team that entered the year hungry for redemption after last season’s sudden, unexpected playoff disqualification.
On the upside, the Clan qualified for this season’s playoffs with no complications. They also got a taste of postseason action against the defending league champions, the Trinity Western University Spartans, by finishing in the fourth and final playoff seed with a regular-season record of 12–11–1.
However, frustratingly for the coaching staff, players and fans, the team was unable to achieve any playoff success. The Clan went without a postseason victory for their fourth consecutive season.
With training camp beginning formally near the end of last August, though, some new and returning Clan players took advantage of the availability of some local ice to begin building chemistry earlier in the summer. The team had a pre-season full of confidence and optimism with respect to the mix of experience and skill on the roster.
The Clan started the year with some early success against TWU, a team that is their natural geographical rival within the league. SFU claimed an exciting road victory in overtime to secure one of what would turn out to be just three wins in nine total games against the Spartans over the course of the entire 2018/2019 schedule. After playing the U Sports-affiliated UBC Thunderbirds to a 4–1 loss that nevertheless helped build early momentum for the team, the Clan concluded their pre-season with a trip to Alaska to square off against some NCAA DIV I competition. More importantly, the team continued to build some chemistry with a short pre-season leading the team rapidly into the fall semester and the first half of their regular season schedule.
The Clan would finish the first half of their regular season schedule with a 6–5 record highlighted by a 14-goal weekend home sweep of the Vancouver Island University Mariners and an exciting overtime win, also at home, over the Selkirk Saints. While the Clan took care of business by defeating the bottom-feeding University of Victoria Vikes in both early-season meetings, the Clan dropped three straight to the Spartans, ominously foreshadowing the teams’ eventual playoff fate.
During winter break, the Clan lost one of their cornerstone defenseman, ex-WHL’er Austin Adam. After this midseason loss, the team made some personnel adjustments with an eye toward filling the hole Adam left and preparing for the looming battle for playoff position and home ice advantage in the second half.
Despite adding forwards Kyle Bergh and Jakob Krannabetter, as well as defenseman Daniyal Nussipakynov, the Clan continued to struggle with consistency. Unable to improve on their first-half record, they posted a similar 5–5–1 mark in the second half. This resulted in the Clan finishing fourth, just one point behind VIU, and matching up against the league-leading Spartans in the first round of the playoffs.
Opening the first round of the BCIHL playoffs at the Aldergrove Community Arena against the Spartans on March 7, the Clan got their first taste of playoff hockey in over two years and it didn’t go as the coaching staff, players and fans would have hoped. The Clan dropped the series opener 6–3, which forced SFU into a win-or-die situation the following night back at home at the Bill Copeland Sports Centre.
Back at home and facing elimination, the Clan were unable to significantly improve on their collective effort from the previous night. In the end, they were swept from the BCIHL playoffs in the first round for their fifth and sixth losses of the 2018/2019 season to the Spartans.
Discussing the areas in which the Clan will have to improve before and during next season in order to set themselves up for a return to the playoff success the organization enjoyed earlier in the decade, coach Mark Coletta pointed to “consistency, professionalism and willingness to compete” as areas that were lacking “at least at some important points of the season.”
While Coletta acknowledged the struggle the team had with consistently putting together a unified and disciplined 60 minutes of hockey throughout the course of the season, he was certainly optimistic about “the flashes of brilliance” the team showed at other times throughout the season. “Our team speed and skill were and will continue to be one of our greatest strengths,” said Coletta as he heads into his 11th season as head coach of the Clan.
While the 2018–19 BCIHL season was undoubtedly disappointing for the Clan with respect to their lack of playoff success, there were multiple Clan skaters that posted notable individual achievements. Rookie forward Mitch Newsome led the team in goals with 14, and he tied Matthew Berry-Lamontagna, graduating senior and captain of the team, for the highest regular-season point total on the squad.
As well as leading the team in points, Berry-Lamontagna broke the BCIHL record for all-time games played and now retires from the BCIHL as the leader in that category. Lamontagna also retires in sixteenth place in all-time BCIHL scoring with 92 career points – an impressive accomplishment for a defenseman.
Veteran forwards Graham Smerek, Mac Colasimone, Brendan Lamont and Eric Callegari rounded out the top seven in team scoring with rookie Cole Plotnikoff finishing just one shy of the team lead with 19 points in 23 games played.
Now that graduating seniors Ryan Sandrin, Darnel St. Pierre, Jaret Babych, Smerek, Lamont, and Berry-Lamontagna have made their final appearances in Clan red, the focus for the SFU hockey team shifts toward the construction of its roster for next season.
Up front, the team expects to return a significant portion of its forwards in Mitch Newsome, Plotnikoff, and Callegari as well as Mitch Ledyard, Nic Holowko, Jordan Funk, Jakob Krannabetter, Ian Mackey, Ryker Moreau and Mathieu Jallabert. On the back end, the team looks to return D-men Arjan Cheema, Arjun Badh, Daniyal Nussipakynov, Spencer Unger and Matt Holowko with recruits likely to supplement these blueliners.
Between the pipes, returning rookie Michael Lenko appears to be the goaltender of the future for the Clan as the second goaltender hole on the roster left by the departure of senior Ryan Sandrin.
As the returning Clan players work themselves back into hockey shape over the summer, and as the coaching staff develops the make-up of the 2019–20 Clan roster, one thing is clear: all members of the organization have a clear focus for next season on re-establishing the playoff success the organization has been deprived of over the previous four seasons.