Vikes take on winless Washington
The halfway mark of the 2017–18 season is approaching, and the UVic Vikes Hockey team are standing far from the championship throne they recently sat upon. The Vikes have not won a game since beating Simon Fraser University (SFU) 5–1 over a month ago. SFU won the rematch, and Vancouver Island University (VIU), the BC Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) expansion team, swept the first series. Now, the Vikes must beat the winless Eastern Washington University (EWU) today or coach Harry Schamhart will have serious concerns moving forward.
Since rebounding from that horrendous 11–1 loss to Trinity Western University on Oct. 20 by beating SFU on Oct. 21, the UVic Vikes have failed to play a full 60-minutes of sound hockey. UVic shows glimpses of beauty in some of their high-level plays and skill demonstrations, but the BCIHL is a respected league, and entertaining hockey is expected. The Vikes need to be more consistent in that area.
Not only have the UVic Vikes lost six in a row, they are often blown out on the score sheet and in the shot department. Sitting fifth place in the six-team league, UVic has allowed 49 goals against while only scoring 19. Also, they have the league’s worst goal differential at -30 and a goals-against average of 5.44 per game.
No one on the Vikes has stepped-up to replace last year top players Shawn Mueller and Patrick Holland.
Mueller graduated and is now playing professional hockey for Kalmar HC of Sweden’s Division 2 League, where he proudly represents the Vikes’ hockey program with four goals and 11 assists in 15 games.
Holland began the season suiting up for the Vikes, but after playing only one game — registering a goal and an assist — he elected to solely practice and train with the team, not play.
The only team below the Vikes in the standings is EWU, but despite not winning games, their team’s top line is great. Beau Walker, who has only dressed for five games, has five goals and 12 points, and his linemates Brett Matthews and Colton St. John each have eight points in eight games. Depth is the primary concern for EWU though, as the scoring drops off from there.
Defensively, the Vikes have the upper hand on EWU. UVic’s control in the neutral zone and penalty kill is also solid. When they remain collected and mentally strong, their defense is sound. Staying confident and generating offensive plays are their main issues.
The UVic Vikes have players who can shoot, like former Victoria Royals forward Jack Palmer, Vikes veteran Brandon Volpe, Landen Matechuk, and Liam Shaw. But it’s that player who is instinctively offensive with good hands that the team is lacking.
With all due respect to the players above, they are more two-way players with a great hockey sense. Having someone available to finish plays and shine in the offensive zone is what this gritty group needs.
As it stands, UVic has neither the depth nor the scoring talent needed to reach the championship again.
Dropping two key series
The UVic Vikes could have ended the win streak of the BCIHL’s top team, the Selkirk Saints, and redeemed their reputation in doing so. In the last match of their three-game series, played on Nov. 4, UVic held their own. But, as predicted, they dropped the lead late in the game, losing in overtime.
After that heartbreak came a game against SFU on Nov. 10. The Vikes needed a win and a confidence boost prior to playing VIU on Nov. 17 (a game that would set the tone of the new Vancouver Island rivalry).
Unfortunately, the Vikes fell to SFU in the most entertaining BCIHL game played at Ian Stuart yet this season. UVic matched SFU in shots, physicality, and heart. Incredible passing plays, an improved break-out rush, and a skillful performance from rookie Jackson Glimpel was promising leading into the back-to-back VIU series.
Yet, disappointment for Vikes fans continued. Though game one was pretty even statistically, VIU’s talented lineup helped them prevail and win 5–2 in Victoria. In game two, at the Nanaimo Ice Centre on Nov. 18, the match was very sloppy. But despite the bouncing pucks, bad positioning, and shots from unorthodox areas, UVic’s effort was admirable.
The Vikes opened the scoring and skated well all night, but were overmatched in the second period onward as VIU capitalized on their chances. Neither team scored on the powerplay, but VIU’s skilled forwards, including Garrett Dunlop and Gage Colpron, provided that little bit extra resulting in VIU’s dominance on the scoresheet.
The Vikes certainly need to address a lack of skill in their next wave of scouting and recruitments.
“This league is getting better every year,” Schamhart told the Times Colonist, crediting VIU, saying his new rivals “worked hard at recruiting good players and [are] going to be a very strong organization.
Just as Beau Walker is the bright spot for the slumping EWU, the UVic Vikes have multiple players worth mentioning.
First is Brandon Volpe. The two-way center occupies various roles, playing on both special teams and in five-on-five as an energy player. Volpe has been rewarded for his efforts with four goals and seven points. He is the Vikes’ most noticeable player right now, skating harder than all of his peers every night.
Second is defensemen Shane Kumar. Kyle Bird may facilitate the offensive zone rushes and control the production from the back-end. However, Kumar is playing old-time hockey!
As a defensive defensemen and energy player, Kumar is one of the most indefatigable man on the ice behind Volpe. During games, he is bashing bodies, taking away shooting lanes, and creating space for his teammates. In between whistles, he is either chirping or charging his opponents — the officials have restrained him from tackling his competition a couple times already. Kumar has one goal on the season and a respectably low 14 penalty minutes based on his aggressive style.
Third is former Victoria Grizzlies netminder and current LA Kings prospect Alec Dillon, who is starting to shine (notwithstanding both his low save percentage and goals against average). Experienced in high-pressure leagues, Dillon is working his way back into the elite prospect conversation after undergoing four hip surgeries—the 21 year old is still a very young prospect in terms of goalie development.
Dillion has dabbled in various high-level junior leagues like the British Columbia Hockey League, Western Hockey League, United States Hockey League, and Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, and hopefully he continues to excel in the BCIHL in order to get the attention of professional scouts and keep his NHL dream alive.
It is unconfirmed as to whether Dillon or Michael Fredrick gets the start in net tonight at the EWU Recreation Complex for the UVic Vikes. Whoever the choice, it will be one of the most important games of the year — no one wants to be the first team EWU beats!
You can catch the UVic Vikes take on EWU at 7:30 p.m. on HockeyTV.com.