By Lucas Wilson
To say that there is a lot of hockey in South Vancouver Island may be an understatement. With a major junior team; a junior A team; four junior B teams; and a major midget team, there is no shortage of opportunities for young players to advance in their careers. Canadian collegiate hockey has never had the prestigious reputation that junior hockey does, but it offers young hockey players perhaps the most valuable opportunity of all: the chance to get a top education while they continue their hockey careers. For ten years, the UVic Vikes Men’s Hockey team has brought in student-athletes to play elite level hockey past their minor, junior, or even professional careers. The Vikes do not attract the same attention of other local hockey teams, but year in, year out, they bring a high level of hockey to fans and fellow students that come out to watch at the Ian Stewart Complex.
The Vikes were one of the inaugural teams that came into the BC Intercollegiate Hockey League when it was founded in 2005. Harry Schamhart has guided the program every step of the way; he founded the team, and has been the head coach and general manager ever since. Schamhart’s job is not that of the typical university-level coach. Despite featuring such high-caliber athletes, the Vikes hockey team is not considered a varsity sport; it is considered a recreational team. Schamhart does not have the same advantages that other coaches do when trying to recruit athletes. “Just to have a team takes countless hours of phone calls, trying to find players across Canada who are excellent students who have the GPAs to get into UVic,” said Schamhart. His job is to sell hockey players to come to the university, pay for their own tuition, pay a hockey fee, but have the opportunity to continue to play the game that they love. For over ten years, he has embraced this challenge, and the program is still going strong.
The Vikes play 24 games each season; twelve on the road, twelve at home, which does not include exhibition or playoffs. Besides UVic, the BCIHL has four other teams: Selkirk College, Simon Fraser University, Eastern Washington University, and Trinity Western University. For Schamhart, it has become increasingly difficult to continue to cover the costs of practice and games, travel, and whatever else the team needs to operate. “It’s changed so much,” said Schamhart. “When we started the BCIHL, we were paying about fifteen thousand dollars a year to operate the program. Now the costs have gone up to seventy thousand a year. We have to cover that using player fees and fundraising.” Being a recreational team, the Vikes are not financially helped by the university like other teams would be. “We’re pretty low on the pole,” said Schamhart. “The university gives me support administratively. I get a lot support from the person responsible for clubs on the recreation side, but it basically stops there.” While recruiting top student athletes, the lack of money to offer is a huge disadvantage, especially while competing against Canadian universities with larger hockey programs. “A lot of the WHL players go on to play in the CIS across the country,” Said Schamhart. “For me, when competing for a player like that, I have to tell him there is a player fee. So he’ll go play for a CIS program, or a varsity program where he’ll get money to go there and play.” Another challenge that the Vikes face is the fact that some of the teams in their own league have a competitive advantage over them. For example, Trinity Western University is a full varsity program that is able to offer scholarships to players. “I’ve lost players to them,” said Schamhart. “I’ll have a player commit to me, and then Trinity Western will offer them money, and then I lose them.”
Despite the challenges that the Vikes face, the club has always had great success on and off the ice. The Vikes have won three BCIHL championships since 2006, and almost every player that has come through the program has graduated from the university. The team also has some exciting opportunities coming into the 2016-2017 season. For starters, the team has signed Patrick Holland to play this year. Holland had a prolific junior career with the Tri-City Americans, and he even made it into five NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens. Another exciting opportunity for the Vikes is that they will have the opportunity to play against some top NCAA teams. Before the BCIHL regular season begins, the Vikes will travel to the University of Wisconsin and North Michigan University for series of exhibition games.
For Schamhart, this program is important for the opportunities that it gives hockey players to expand their opportunities past hockey. “I think hockey players go on to be excellent citizens,” said Schamhart, “and they have to be given these opportunities.” With a lot to look forward to in the 2016-2017 season, Schamhart hopes that the Vikes will get more attention in the sea of South Island hockey. ”There’s a lot of hockey fans in Victoria, and I know a lot of them don’t know about the UVic Men’s Hockey Team,” said Schamhart. “But if you’re a true hockey fan, and you love hockey, then you should come out and watch the Vikes play. I think you’ll come back.”