LANGLEY, British Columbia – The Trinity Western men’s hockey team will begin its quest for its first ever BCIHL title this weekend, with the Spartans opening their regular season with a pair of road games against Victoria Friday and Vancouver Island Saturday.
Coming off a high-level preseason, in which the Spartans faced UBC (U SPORTS) and Simon Fraser, as well as defending ACAC champion MacEwan along with Edmonton-based Concordia (ACAC), TWU enters the regular season in fine form.
The Spartans open the season Friday at Victoria in a rematch of last year’s BCIHL championship series. TWU will then travel to Nanaimo, B.C. to play Vancouver Island University in the first ever matchup between the Spartans and Mariners. VIU is playing in its first season in the BCIHL
Watch the Spartans all season long at home and on the road at www.hockeytv.com.
COACH BARRET KROPF
“I’m really optimistic for the upcoming year. I think defensively, we have a really strong returning core. I think any of our starting six could be an all-star in our league. Up front, we definitely have more depth than we have ever had. And with Silas (Matthys, Wollerau, Switzerland) back, we obviously don’t have any questions at our goaltending position. As long as we stay healthy, I think we can compete every night.”
With three-time league all-star Silas Matthys returning for his fifth and final year of eligibility, the Spartans will once again have arguably the best netminding in the league. He’s already the all-time BCIHL leader in career wins and his .921 career save percentage is also tops all-time amongst BCIHL goalies. If his performance against UBC in the Captains Cup, in which he held the Thunderbirds to just three goals on 41 shots, is any indication, Matthys is ready to pick up right where he left off last season.
Behind Matthys will be Lucas Mills (Burnaby, B.C.) and Allistair Duncan (Abbotsford, B.C.). While Mills was particularly impressive last year, posting a 1.12 goals against average and a .964 save percentage in six games, both he and Duncan will get the chance to push for back-up minutes, as they represent the next wave of TWU goaltending.
On the back end, the Spartans defence is as deep any defensive core in the league. While captain Kaleb Denham (Innisfail, Alta.) will certainly be amongst the defensive leaders, with the likes of veteran blueliners Stefan Gonzales (Surrey, B.C.), Jacob Mills (Burnaby) and Karsten Seidel (Delta, B.C.), the Spartans have a mobile defence that can play with anyone in the BCIHL. Add to that second-years Dustin Deugau (Calgary) and Kenny Batke (Vernon, B.C.) and it’s no wonder Kropf has such high expectations for this year’s blueline.
Beyond the top six, Kropf’s biggest problem might be too many quality defenceman. With Brendan Campbell (Cloverdale, B.C.) and Mackenzie Wiens (Winnipeg) entering the fray alongside Deryk Kirchner (Sherwood Park, Alta.), the Spartans will have a variety of options and several tough decisions will have to made each weekend.
Up front, the second-year duo of Evan Last (Surrey, B.C.) and Jarrett Fontaine (Humboldt, Sask.) will look to take another step forward in helping lead the Spartans offensively. Last was the BCIHL Rookie of the Year in 2017-18 after leading the league in points, with seven goals and 24 assists. Meanwhile, Fontaine, who was held to 18 games due to injury, had a league-leading 15 goals to go with 13 assists to finish third in the BCIHL in points. The pair will once again play together this year and are set to build on their rookie campaigns.
While the Spartans top two scorers come into the year as the headliners, Kropf is confident this year’s top six is as deep as ever. With incoming forwards Brayden Brown (Calgary), who scored TWU’s lone goal against UBC, Brandon Potomak (Aldergrove, B.C.) and Jordan Rendle (Surrey) highlighting the Spartans first-year contingent, TWU has the tools to be an offensive juggernaut. Look for veteran forward Florian Niedermaier (Davos, Switzerland) to take on a larger offensive role as he’ll likely slot into the top six early in the year.
As is the case throughout the TWU lineup, the Spartans forward depth will come from both veterans and rookies alike. With returnees like Dirk de Waal (Lethbridge, Alta.), Ryan Scott (Surrey) and Kade Vilio (Aldergrove) joined by the likes of Dylan Cusmano (Abbotsford, B.C.), Elijah Vilio (Aldergrove), Dylan Sakatch (Calgary) and Tyler McMinn (Wilsall, Mont.), the Spartans forward unit is solid from top to bottom.
BY THE NUMBERS
2016 BCIHL regular season record: 16-6-0-2 – 2nd
2016 BCIHL post-season record: 3-2 – 2nd
2016 BCIHL REGULAR SEASON RANKS
Offence: 3.21 Goals Per Game, 3rd
Defence: 1.96 Goals Against Per Game, 1st