Vince Bitonti helped the Castlegar Rebels eliminate the Beaver Valley Nitehawks in the KIJHL playoffs last season and will lace up the skates with the Selkirk College Saints this year. Jim Bailey photo.

Vince Bitonti helped the Castlegar Rebels eliminate the Beaver Valley Nitehawks in the KIJHL playoffs last season and will lace up the skates with the Selkirk College Saints this year. Jim Bailey photo.

Selkirk College Saints add bricks to defensive core

The Selkirk College Saints commit towering d-men Bitonti, Gage, and Campbell for 2018-19 season.

With their goal to return the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) championship to the West Kootenay, the Selkirk College Saints have put the final pieces of the puzzle together for the 2018-2019 season.

The Selkirk College Saints bolstered their blue line by adding a trio of towering defencemen that includes Brendan Campbell, Vince Bitonti, and Joe Gage. All three defencemen weild impressive resumes that include team leadership, physicality, strong work ethic, offensive touch and league championships.

“Our program has always placed an emphasis on defence,” said Saints head coach Brent Heaven. “Making it difficult for the opponent to score is what ultimately defines a championship team. The addition of these three proven defencemen to what is already a very solid unit takes us to the next level.”

Originally from Calgary, Bitonti is a familiar face to West Kootenay hockey fans having played his final three seasons of junior hockey with the KIJHL Castlegar Rebels. The captain of the Rebels last season, the six-foot-two, 185-pound Bitonti was a force both defensively and offensively, scoring 20 goals and adding 33 assists on his way to being named the KIJHL’s top defenceman.

“I will be bringing a positive attitude and 200-foot style of game to the Saints,” says Bitonti, who is also enrolled in the Business Administration Program. “A big part of why I have chosen to come to Selkirk College is the hockey team’s consistent focus on excellence and a community that is familiar to me. This is a great chance to attend school and continue playing hockey.”

Campbell is transferring to Selkirk College from Trinity Western University where he helped the Spartans capture the 2018 BCIHL championship this past March in Langley.

The six-foot-three, 205-pound Cloverdale native finished his junior career in Timmins, Ont. before moving back to BC to start post-secondary school at Langley-based TWU where he quickly established a reputation on the ice as a strong skater and tough defender.

“I decided to transfer to Selkirk College because they have a reputation of having an outstanding hockey program and having the opportunity to play in a small community my last year of junior, I really came to love the small town atmosphere,” says Campbell, who will be taking classes in the Business Administration Program. “This, along with the small class sizes, makes Selkirk College a perfect fit for me.”

Gage arrives to Selkirk College from the powerhouse Campbell River Storm organization where he helped the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) team claim a championship last spring. At six-foot-two, Gage is a physical and reliable puck-moving defenceman who was named the VIJHL’s top defenceman in 2016-17. Last season, he racked up three goals, 16 assists, and 97 pims in 37 games in a season split between the Comox Valley Glacier Kings and his hometown Storm.

Gage follows in the footsteps of several other Storm graduates like Dane Feeney, Brayden McCartney, Jordan Rauser and Nathan Browne who graduated from junior hockey to the Selkirk College Saints.

“I have heard that Selkirk College has the best fans in the league and I am looking forward to being part of that atmosphere,” says Gage.

The trio will join returning defencemen Jackson Bruce-Fuoco, Parker Wakaruk, Brayden McCartney and Cole Arcuri on a Saints blue line that has the potential to be the best in the league.

“If we are to bring a championship back to the West Kootenay at the end of the season, it will take a commitment to defence,” says Heaven. “With two strong goaltenders (Patrick Zubick and Tallon Kramer) and this line-up, teams will have a difficult time playing against us this season.”

The Saints begin training camp next month at the Castlegar and District Recreation Centre.