The rink lights burn, the ice gleams, the puck drops.
That’s how every Friday and Saturday night goes for UVic’s men’s hockey team, and that’s how it’s been for the past six years for head coach Harry Schamhart.
In 2006, Schamhart, 51, along with Trinity Western University’s Chuck Macknee and Selkirk College’s Jeff Dubois, began the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) after attending an intramural tournament hosted by Trinity Western.
“I always thought there was an empty spot in university hockey,” says Schamhart.
Since then, UVic has won the BCIHL championship three times, though not without adversity. While the Vikes hockey team is funded through the UVic athletics program, UVic has never had the financial recruiting power that schools like Simon Fraser University and Selkirk College have. Hockey is not a varsity sport at UVic, which means that it receives less funding than sports like basketball and swimming.
“UVic has never had the most talented team,” Schamhart says. “The biggest reason UVic is so successful is because of our work ethic.”
One player who has been a huge contributing factor to the team’s success is the captain, Matthew Bell. Bell, 23, has seen the team start off as the “stalled car” of the league and take home a championship. He attributes the Vikes’ success to the strong hockey culture that has grown in the team.
“Because we struggle so much with the funding, we get a tighter-knit group than the other teams cherry picking guys from the [Western Hockey League] and [Junior A],” says Bell. “Most of us are rooming with another guy on the hockey team, and I talk to most of the guys every day. The whole atmosphere of the team sets it all in, and you feel you’re part of a family.”
New to this family is Evan Warner. Though a rookie to the team, Warner, 21, has already found his stride, winning BCIHL rookie of the month in October. “It’s not so much an individual award. I look at it as an award for the team,” says Warner.
A lot comes down to their coach, too. Being a Saanich police officer, Schamhart says that he “expects a lot from himself and a lot from [his] players.”
“The guys on the team really respect that [he’s a police officer] — that if they were in trouble they could go to him, and if they got in trouble they would hear from him,” says Bell. “Harry is completely committed and he makes it fun. Guys want to keep coming even with the struggles we face.”
UVic had a tough start this season, going 1-4-1 in their first six games. The team had an eerily similar slow start last season and ended up winning the BCIHL title. With returning players like Bell and Adam Klein, there is a strong veteran group to lead the large crop of younger players. As the youth develops, the team hopes for a late-season surge.
With recent wins over Eastern Washington and Simon Fraser, the Vikes have launched themselves to third place in the rankings (5-6-1). Momentum is on their side, and they are looking to finish the fall semester off strong. It appears that the underrated UVic team is making a case to take the championship for a second year in a row.
“We have a good shot at being the underdog and taking a run at it again this year,” says Bell.