By: Michael Lenko, Peak Associate
The SFU Hockey team will take on the Vancouver Island University (VIU) Mariners in the first round of the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) playoffs. At the time of writing, SFU and VIU were tied for second place in the league standings with 28 points. Fittingly, the two teams will meet in the final game of the BCIHL regular season to determine home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
While SFU has two games remaining on their regular season schedule compared to one for VIU, due to the Mariners’ edge over the Clan in the season series between the two teams, the only game that matters is the final one of the season. Because of this, whichever team secures a victory in this game will host the first round playoff series.
Regardless of the location of the first round playoff series, the Clan will look to build off a strong regular season that was highlighted by standout performances by some team leaders. With just two games left in the season, forward Mac Colasimone leads the team with 26 points in 22 games. Rookie forward Ty Westgard has had an outstanding first season in the BCIHL, having accumulated 25 points in the same amount of games as Colasimone. On the blue line, defenceman Domenic Masellis leads all Clan defenders with nine points on the year. Between the pipes, which has arguably been the Clan’s strength this season, goaltenders Patrick Zubick and Andrew Henderson have combined to allow just 66 goals this season, which is second only to the league leading Trinity Western Spartans. There is no doubt that strong goaltending has played a large role in SFU’s success this year, given that the team also boasts the distinction of being one of only two teams with a positive goal differential.
The impending playoff series against the VIU Mariners is likely to be a tightly contested battle between two evenly matched teams. The Mariners currently hold a 3-1-1 advantage in the season series, with the Clan’s only win coming in their first game of the season. SFU will certainly have their hands full as they attempt to deal with the Mariners’ potent first line that is headlined by Garrett Dunlop, who leads the team with 34 points and has recorded a point in every game of the season. The Clan will also have to keep an eye on the Mariners’ high-scoring defender Seth Schmidt, who has amassed 19 points from the backend this season. It’s also likely that Jeremy Balyk will be in goal for the Mariners to open the series. Balyk has turned in an impressive rookie season in the BCIHL by posting a .913 save percentage and nine wins in 16 games.
In advance of the playoffs, The Peak was able to sit down with members of the Clan to discuss the coming series against the Mariners and the general state of the team as they embark on the pursuit of their first league title since 2013. Assistant captain Eric Callegari believes that “Overall, the team chemistry has been way better [this year] and has shown in the standings, with us [likely] sitting in second place heading into playoffs.”
When asked what changes have led to the success the team has seen this season compared to last year, Callegari stressed the importance of the team chemistry exhibited by this year’s group. Callegari noted similarities between the 2019–20 edition of the Clan and the Aldergrove Kodiaks he captained to a Pacific Junior Hockey League title in 2017. He emphasized that the closeness of the group and the almost family-like atmosphere in the locker room were important aspects of the championship group in Aldergrove that he feels are present in the Clan this year.
Parallel to this, associate head coach Ryan Sandrin is confident that one of the major improvements this year’s squad has made in comparison to previous editions of the team is the top quality talent up and down the roster. Sandrin trusts that this version of the Clan is one of the most talented groups in the history of the program. Additionally, Sandrin also feels that the player’s ability to successfully adapt to different roles the coaching staff have asked them to play this season has been central to their success.
When asked what he thinks SFU will need to focus on to beat the Mariners, Sandrin stressed discipline, speed, and systems, arguing that “while we are one of the least penalized teams, we need to clean up the dumb 200-foot penalties.” Sandrin trusts that, if the Clan are able to use their speed and get their feet moving, the team will have success against the bigger and slower Mariners.
A final point that Sandrin stressed was the need to stick to the systems the team has established throughout the season. He thinks that breakdowns that have come at inopportune times this season have stemmed from players neglecting the systems that have brought the team success. While Sandrin admits the team is young and will make mistakes, he believes their dynamic skills can compensate for this and that the team will find success in the BCIHL playoffs.
On this note, the Clan’s leading rookie scorer Ty Westgard feels that “playing our own game and not getting pulled into theirs” will be a key to the Clan’s success in the first round. Like Sandrin, Westgard argued that staying disciplined and using team speed will be crucial if the team is to overcome the Mariners to advance to the BCIHL finals.
When asked what he can do to help contribute to a successful playoff run, Westgard noted his role on special teams as one of his individual points of focus for the upcoming series. Westgard feels that if the Clan are able to achieve a 20% success rate on the powerplay, it will be tough to beat them. Like his teammate, Westgard also cited a family-like atmosphere as a vital component of postseason success when The Peak asked what characteristics he sees in successful teams he’s played on. He affirms that the Clan has fully established this chemistry in advance of the playoffs.
It’s not hard to make the case that this year’s edition of the SFU Hockey team is one of the most exciting groups the program has had in years. With high-end skill, team chemistry, and strong goaltending, the Clan has one of the best opportunities to hang a championship banner inside the Bill Copeland Sports Centre that they’ve had in years. While SFU will face an opponent they have struggled against this season, it’s clear that both the coaching staff and players are confident that they can use speed, discipline, and a commitment to team systems to claim their first BCIHL Championship since 2011.