by Mark Janzen
February 20, 2014, LANGLEY, British Columbia (ISN) – After a two-year hiatus, the Trinity Western men’s hockey team is back in the playoffs as the Spartans clinched a post-season berth with a 5-3 win over Thompson Rivers Thursday at the Langley Events Centre.
With the win, TWU improved to 10-12 on the season and leapfrogged the WolfPack for third place in the BCIHL standings. With two games remaining in their regular season schedule, the Spartans, who sit one point ahead of the WolfPack, can lock down third place with a win or a TRU loss. The WolfPack (9-13-0-1) has just one game remaining against Victoria Mar. 1 at home.
The Spartans will play their final two games of the season on the road against Eastern Washington Feb. 28 and Selkirk Mar. 1.
The last time the Spartans made the playoffs was in 2010-11, when they finished fourth in the previously used five-team post-season tournament format. Trinity Western will play either Selkirk or Simon Fraser in a best-of-three series in the first round of the playoffs.
“The guys are pretty encouraged by the fact that we not only clinched a playoff spot but we now have a chance to lock down third place,” said Barret Kropf. “We had a few minutes in the second when they got a couple of quick ones when we were trying to do too many things that we’re not designed to do. We’re not a team that can play as individuals. We’re a hard-working team that has to play as a full unit. We got the guys refocused heading into the third period and we got the win.”
After earning 1-0 lead through the first period, the Spartans exploded for three goals in the first 11 minutes of the second period to open a 4-0 edge.
The WolfPack responded with three straight goals to make it a one-goal game with more than 13 minutes left in the third period, but that was as close as TRU would get. The Spartans restored its two-goal edge at 12:12 of the final frame to secure the win.
The Spartans Andrew Wheeler (Maple Ridge, B.C.) opened the scoring before graduating senior Trevor Beaupre (New Westminster, B.C.) as well as Cody Stephenson (Aldergrove, B.C.) and JP Villeneuve (Georgetown, Ont.) tallied to give TWU the 4-0 bulge. Fellow senior Doug Gordon (Ottawa) notched the Spartans insurance goal in the third with his first of the season.
Thompson Rivers responded with goals from Brandon Watson, Anthony Delong and Travis Herlein.
Trinity Western’s Harry Fredeman (Ladner, B.C.) made 31 saves to earn his sixth win of the year. Thompson River’s goalie Mark Menicucci started the game and made 18 saves on 22 shots before he was replaced by Chris Solecki after the fourth goal. Solecki stopped 15 of the 16 shots he faced.
The Spartans outshot TRU 38-34.
Playing in their final regular season home game of their careers, Beaupre, Gordon and Josh Stephenson (Aldergrove) were honoured in a pre-game senior-athlete appreciation ceremony.
In a chippy affair that saw the teams combined for 110 penalty minutes – TRU had 57 and TWU had 53 – the Spartans got off to a fast start when Wheeler took advantage of a fortunate bounce to open the scoring. While on the power play, the TWU forward centred a pass from behind the net and saw it deflect off a TRU defenceman and slip past WolfPack goalie Menicucci.
In the second period, Trinity Western scored early on a quick strike from Beaupre just 2:07 into the frame. Cody Stephenson then made it 3-0 as he converted a nifty right-to-left pass from Wheeler off the rush, popping it past Menicucci from in close.
Villeneuve then extended the TWU lead to four goals when he whipped a wrister from the right faceoff dot past the WolfPack goalie for the Spartans second power play goal of the game.
However, with a four-goal lead in hand, the Spartans Brad Bakken (Langley) was given a 10-minute misconduct and, with TWU without their captain, the WolfPack took advantage. Watson, at even strength, and then Delong, on the power play, cut TWU’s lead in half by the second intermission. With the man-advantage Herlein then made it a one-goal game when he scored at 6:51 of the third period.
But with just under eight minutes to play, TWU’s Gordon put the game out of reach. Standing over Solecki in the crease, Gordon pounced on a rebound knocked the puck in from a foot out.
“The guys in the room have bought in,” Kropf said. “They realize they have the skill to compete in this league. They’ve been spending a lot of time in the gym and in the film room and they’ve been improving every day. But we’re not content with just getting into the playoffs. We want to keep improving.”
Game Notes: Both teams were two for seven on the power play…Bakken was called for 25 minutes in penalties and was ejected from the game with 4:11 left in the third…TRU’s Ryan Cuthbert was ejected from the game with 2:01 left….the Spartans 10-win total matches TWU’s combined win total of the past two years…TWU had six wins last year and four in 2011-12.