This weekend, SFU Men’s Hockey are heading east and facing off against NCAA Division I talent. As part of their preseason schedule, the team is hitting the road to face the Providence Friars, the defending national champions, and the Northeastern Huskies.
“It’s a good time to get away early in the season and playing NCAA competition is always exciting,” said head coach Mark Coletta. “And on top of that, Boston’s a great city, Providence is great as well, and playing the defending national champs is something you don’t get to do every season.”
SFU opens the trip Saturday against the Friars, who won the NCAA national championship for the first time in team history, at Schneider Arena in Providence, RI. Despite being the underdogs of the tournament, the Friars went undefeated in the NCAA playoffs, notably eliminating NHL prospects Jack Eichel (drafted by the Buffalo Sabres, 2nd overall 2015), and goaltender Matt O’Connor (signed by the Ottawa Senators) in the process.
The Friars have a distinguished set of hockey alumni who have gone on to storied careers both on and off the ice including former NHL defenseman Hal Gill, Calgary Flames president Brian Burke, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello, and former Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson.
Then on Sunday, SFU travels to Boston, MA to take on the Huskies, a team steeped in history having played since the 1929-30 season, and who are one of the four teams who competes in the annual Beanpot tournament. Notable alumni include former Montreal Canadiens enforcer Chris Nilan, current Nashville Predators GM David Poile, and current Arizona Coyotes centre Joe Vitale. More recently, the team’s goalie for the 2014 season, Clay Witt, signed with the Vancouver Canucks’ farm team, the Utica Comets, and got to play in the Canucks’ Young Stars tournament earlier this preseason.
Between the two teams, there are 10 NHL draft picks, including 2012 Calgary Flames first round pick Mark Jankowski (for the Friars) and 2012 fourth round pick Kevin Roy (for the Huskies).
SFU, who has experience playing NCAA Division I talent including playing Bowling Green and St Cloud State last year, has been preparing for the challenge over the last two weeks since concluding local preseason games against Trinity Western and UBC.
“This year, more than any other year, we are in a better physical and conditioning state than we’ve been in any offseason,” said Coletta. “We’ve worked them pretty hard since the last week of August, we’ve demanded a lot out of them, and I think their physical condition is the best it’s been in any preseason since I’ve been around.”
For the team, it’s an exciting opportunity to see how they measure up against the top calibre of college hockey in North America.
“I love the competition,” said Jesse Williamson, a third year defenceman for the Clan, who has played in the annual NCAA match-up twice before for SFU. “It’s a really fast game [playing against NCAA Div I teams].”
Though the match-up will be a tough one, it’s one that SFU knows it can take.
“We wouldn’t be playing them if we didn’t think we could win,” explained Coletta. “We’re going in with the gameplan to win, how we execute is going to determine the result”
“We’ve got to play smart defensively and we can’t let them out-skate us,” said Williamson.
The Clan open their regular season on the road against Trinity Western University on Saturday, October 10, and open at home the following Saturday against Eastern Washington. Both games are at 7 pm.