LANGLEY, British Columbia – This year, the Spartans hope to make history. Over the last two years, the Trinity Western men’s hockey team has come close, but they have yet to capture that elusive first BCIHL championship. With unprecedented depth as their strength this year, the Spartans have their sights firmly set on finally taking that last step to the top of the mountain.
Two years ago, the Spartans made it to the BCIHL championship series but were forced to watch Selkirk raise the trophy. Last year, TWU won the regular season title with a program best 17-5-0-2 record, but then fell short in the first round of the playoffs. This year, with plenty of veteran leadership, a few key additions, both offensively and defensively, and a goalie, in Silas Matthys, who is the reigning league MVP, the Spartans look like a team built to make a push to the peak.
The Spartans, who went 3-0 in the preseason, open the 2015-16 season Oct. 2-3 with a pair of road games at Selkirk. They return home the following weekend to host Simon Fraser Oct. 10 at the Langley Events Centre.
All BCIHL games are streamed live on www.fasthockey.com/bcihl
2015 MEN’S HOCKEY SEASON PREVIEW
2014-15 BCIHL Regular Season Record: 17-5-0-2
2014-15 BCIHL Playoff Record: 0-2-0-0
Number of New Players: 9
Key Recruits: Kaleb Denham (D/Grande Prairie Storm [AJHL]), Jeremy McIntosh (D/Spokane Chiefs [WHL]), Dirk de Waal (F/Briercrest College [ACAC]), Matthew Vela (F/Fort Frances Lakers [SIJHL])
Number of departing players: 9
Key Losses: Cody Fidgett (F), Jake Harcoff (D)
“Our depth this year is unlike anything I’ve had here,” said Spartans coach Barret Kropf. “It’s going to be a team game this year, as opposed to relying heavily on one line or one player. I think all the guys are excited and our coaching staff is excited because all the guys want to learn and prove that they deserve to be in the lineup. The competition to get into the game day roster creates a great week of practice. There are no off days for us. It’s like playing an 80-game schedule because every practice is almost at game intensity.
“If we’re healthy, we’re going to be a team that is hard to compete against because we’ll be able to go with four lines. Our DNA is still to be excellent every night and we want to be a team that is miserable to play against.”
· This year, depth will be the name of the game for the Spartans. For the last two years, the Spartans heavily relied on the likes of JP Villeneuve, who scored 21 of TWU’s 68 goals in 2013-14, and Cody Fidgett, who scored 25 of TWU’s 104 goals in 2014-15. This year will be different. With a strong forward unit from top to bottom, expect a balanced attack to trigger the Spartans offence.
· Replacing a player with Fidgett’s offensive prowess isn’t easy, but TWU coach Barret Kropf is confident this year’s four-line depth will make up the difference. With PJ Buys, who was second in team scoring last year, returning and the likes of Dirk de Waal and Matthew Vela joining a burgeoning top six, the Spartans are in good shape moving forward.
· Last year, the Spartans put together an impressive 17-5-0-2 record to top the BCIHL’s regular season standings. However, in the playoffs, TWU lost in two straight to Simon Fraser and the Spartans season ended much earlier than expected. This year, the Spartans enter the season with one overarching on-ice goal: win it all. Over the last two years, expectations at TWU have risen dramatically and anything short of a league title would be, in terms of on-ice success, disappointing.
· With Silas Matthys in goal, the Spartans will go into every game brimming with confidence. The Swiss goalie is as good as anyone in the league and will hold the defensive fort.
· The Spartans are getting better and so too is the BCIHL. With every year, it seems both TWU and the league takes its level of play to new heights. This year will be no different as the influx of ever-improving talent has made the BCIHL and the Spartans a legitimate rising star in the hockey ranks.
While offensive depth will be the key to the Spartans goal-scoring success, that doesn’t mean TWU’s top end won’t have some serious firepower. Last year, Buys finished the year with 14 goals and 24 assists in 21 games while Mattias Schmitt added 14 goals and 12 assists in 24 games. With the addition of de Waal and Vela and the emergence of players like Dawson Sawatzky and Andrew Wheeler, there is plenty of offensive talent. Add to that a third and fourth line that is stronger than the Spartans have ever had and this year’s forward unit looks better than ever.
The Spartans defence won’t be much fun to play against. They’re big, they’re talented and they’re physical. Captain Blair Murphy and Ryan Bakken are back and, with the additions of Kaleb Denham and Jeremy McIntosh, the top four has taken a step forward. The loss of Jake Harcoff, who had 23 assists last year in 23 games hurts the Spartans blue line from an offensive perspective, this year’s group has the tools to make up for his absence while still holding a staunch defensive front.
Silas Matthys, who was last year’s league MVP and Goaltender of the Year, is back and that’s all that really needs to be said. His .930 save percentage was by far the best in the league and his competitive nature, both in games and practices, is unrivalled. With Matthys in net, TWU will be in every game.