Selkirk College Saints face TWU Spartans in season opener

"We’re looking forward to getting going and building on our past success.” ~ head coach Brent Heaven

The Selkirk College Saints will raise its third championship banner to the rafters tonight when it opens the 2015-16 B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) season  against Trinity Western University Spartans.

The pregame ceremony will be a fitting start as the BCIHL celebrates its 10th season, and the Saints begin a new campaign for an unprecedented fourth championship.

“Last season we overcame a great deal of adversity to reach our ultimate goal,” Saints head coach Brent Heaven told Bob Hall, Selkirk College media rep. “Tonight will be a chance to revisit that accomplishment, but also start to write a new chapter for this program. We’re looking forward to getting going and building on our past success.”

The Saints wrapped up its exhibition season with a pair of wins over the University of Victoria in Nelson on the weekend beating the Vikes 6-3 and 5-3.

Trail native Ryan Edwards is returning and looking to repeat his top-five finish in league scoring last year, when the former Nitehawk netted 32 points in 24 games. Talented forward Dallas Calvin will join his former teammate from the 2014 Keystone Cup winning Nitehawks, following a strong year with Trail Smoke Eaters last season.

Fruitvale’s Arie Postmus, Trail defenceman Danny Vlanich, and forward Jamie Vlanich are also returning while Nelson native Ryon Sookro will play his first season with the Saints.

Other key returnees include James Prigione who led all BCIHL goaltenders in goals against with a 2.33 GAA and a .907 save percentage.  Alex Milligan, Matt Martin, Tyler Kerner, and Steve Pantazopoulos are back and will be counted on to play a bigger role in the upcoming campaign.

“There’s a ton of opportunity, we have 12 guys coming back and I expect everyone of those guys to step up their game from what they produced last year,” said Heaven.

Newcomer Nathan Browne will help shore up the defence. The six-foot-two, 21-year-old Vernon product played 37 games with the Trail Smoke Eaters in 2013-14 scoring three goals and seven assists, while rookies Dane Feeney (Campbell River Storm) and Troy Maclise (Osoyoos Coyotes) are skilled and talented recruits up front, and lit up their respective Junior  leagues last season.

The Saints said farewell to eight graduating players from last year’s team including Trail native and former Trail Smoke Eater Logan Proulx, Darnell Dyck, Stefan Gonzales, Lucas Hildebrand, Ryan Procyshyn, former Nitehawk Mason Spear, Thomas Hardy, and Stefan Virtanen.

“We have a very balanced attack and I expect both the returning forwards and the new players to fill the offensive void,” says Heaven. “It’s always difficult to see players like Logan and Darnell leave, but this is a great opportunity for others to pick up that element of the game.”

League president Kim Verigin has watched the league develop since its inception 10 years ago, and is pleased with the level of play and the progress made over that time. He expects another strong season this year from a league that is quickly becoming known for its competitive play and uncommon parity. In 2014-15, 4-of-5 BCIHL teams finished with records of .500 or better.

“From a Selkirk College standpoint, it’s nice to see that you go into any single game and you’re going to have hard competition in front of you and there’s no guaranteed winner,” Verigin said on Inside the BCIHL. “That’s nice to have because it makes the student athletes work harder and achieve their goal of taking home the championship.”

Trinity Western at 17-5-0-2 won the regular season title last year finishing ahead of the second-place Saints, 13-8-0-3, but were shocked by fourth place SFU, 12-12-0-0, in the opening playoff round. The Spartans lost 2-of-3 to SFU, while the Saints rolled through the playoff going undefeated, beating Uvic in the semifinal before dispatching SFU in two straight in the BCIHL final.

“It was a battle last season because all of the teams improved a great deal,” says Heaven. “If we are to defend our title, it’s not going to be easy. But we have the talent in the room to make it happen and everybody’s excited to see where it takes us.”

The Saints play Friday and Saturday night at the Castlegar Recreation Complex with the puck drop at 7 p.m. on both nights.