Selkirk College Saints defenceman Seth Schmidt rushes the puck up the ice against the Vancouver Island University Mariners. The second-year blueliner scored a third period goal in Saturday night’s loss to the Mariners. The Saints return home on the January 12/13 weekend when they will host the Trinity Western University Spartans at the Castlegar & District Recreation Complex in what will be a battle for first place in the league. (Selkirk College)

Selkirk College Saints head into break atop league standings

Selkirk College Saints skate into the holiday break with visions of a championship in their heads

The Selkirk College Saints skate into the holiday break with visions of a 2018 British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) championship dancing in their heads, but there’s still plenty of work to be done once the players return in early-January.

The Saints concluded the first semester of the BCIHL season with a split decision western road trip where they beat the University of Victoria Vikes 3-2 on Friday night and then dropped a tough 6-4 decision to the upstart Vancouver Island University Mariners on Saturday.

After starting the regular season with a blistering 10-0 record, the Saints were 1-2-0-1 in their last four games. “There are very good hockey teams in this league,” says Saints head coach Brent Heaven. “When you get into games where you’re not willing to play a disciplined game and a team-first game for the 60 minutes, it can cost you. We took some bad penalties in the second period of that Vancouver Island University game and it ended up costing us in the end. But it’s a good learning experience.”

In the weekend opener against the University of Victoria, the Saints shook off the bus-legs early when Brayden McCartney gave the visitors a 1-0 lead seven minutes into the game. Victoria then stormed back with a couple of goals that were created on Selkirk College miscues.

The Saints outshot the Vikes 21-5 in the second period but were unable to beat UVIC goaltender Michael Fredrick. Saints captain Dallas Calvin finally solved Fredrick midway through the third period to tie the game at 2-2 and then Brandon Sookro scored the game-winner with just over two minutes left in the game to secure a victory.

On Saturday night in Nanaimo, it was the Mariners who scored first when Garrett Dunlop beat Selkirk College starter Patrick Zubick. Though Saints forward Jack Mills answered shortly after, by the end of the middle frame Vancouver Island University had built a 5-2 lead. The Saints were close to staging another comeback after Seth Schmidt and Mills scored late in the third period, but an empty-net goal by former Saints forward Alex Milligan put a halt on any hopes for a win.

“When you are riding a high like we were at the start of the season, everybody is feeling extremely confident,” says Heaven. “But when you get into adversity, it provides a test. Every game that we have lost has essentially been a one-goal game. We had an opportunity to win every one of those games, but it comes down to playing it the right way.”

Despite the recent stumble, the Saints continue to hold down first place in the BCIHL with an 11-2-0-1 record. “It’s good to face adversity because those are the moments that show what you need to do to be successful,” says Heaven.

“I’m not upset that we lost a couple of games, it’s good to have these opportunities to learn from at this point of the season. But at the end of the day, I feel really confident in this group. I like what we have all the way through the line-up, we have shown that can put the puck in the net and keep the puck out defensively. It all comes down to the way we want to play the game and that is something we will continue to preach.”

The Saints now head into an extended holiday break where the student-athletes can focus on final exams and then spend time with family over the Christmas season.

The team will return to league play on the January 12/13 weekend when they host second-place Trinity Western University in what will be a battle for first overall in the league.

“The job isn’t done and there is a long road ahead,” says Heaven. “The preparation the players take over the next five weeks will be critical if we are going to be successful in the second half of the season.”

The Saints captured four straight BCIHL championships between 2013 and 2016. The January hope games at the Castlegar & District Recreation Complex start at 7 p.m.