Searching for a second-half surge: Trojans men’s hockey team keeping pace with top teams

Originally published in The Weal, Dec. 22, 2018.

SAIT Trojans men’s hockey head coach Brent Devost believes his team is one of the best in the conference, and one that will only get better when they return in January.

At the fall semester break, the Trojans were 9-5-0, comfortably in fifth place in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC). Devost notes that just four points separate the Trojans from first place.

Their last three weekends in November saw them play series against three of the top ACAC teams – NAIT, Red Deer College, and the University of Alberta – Augustana – and the Trojans went .500, splitting each series.

“It would have been nice for us to come away with a sweep on one of those weekends, but obviously we’ve shown we can beat every team.”

Devost was still satisfied with the team’s progress, especially since they played with a depleted roster.

“We’ve had players in and out of our lineup with injuries, [and] we’ve had suspensions come our way.

“In probably eight of 14 games, we had forwards playing defence, [and] in many cases two forwards.

“Overall, though, I think guys are getting more used to each other, we’re getting some set line combos set up, [and] our special teams are starting to play together a little bit more.”

Led by goalie Payton Lee, the Trojans ranked third in goals against in the ACAC.

Through ten games, Lee was third in the ACAC in save percentage (.922) and second in saves (329.) His coach said the workhorse goalie would get a rest in the second half of the season, with backups Jordan Cartney and Austin Wells getting more starts.

“We’ve been very pleased with how Jordan’s played [in four games], and as for our third goaltender Austin, he deserves credit for all the work he’s done in practice keeping pace.”

However, the coach was pleased with the team’s overall defensive work.

In the second half, the Trojans’ defence will be boosted by former Western Hockey League (WHL) d-man Brady Reagan joining the team. Reagan played from 2013-2018 with the WHL’s Regina Pats, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Calgary Hitmen, and Kamloops Blazers.

“We’re excited to put [Reagan] into our lineup for the last 14,” said Devost.

The Trojans’ special teams are an area of priority. Their power play (15.3 per cent) and penalty kill (79.5 per cent) both ranked sixth in the ACAC at the break.

Devost acknowledged that the first step in killing more penalties is to take less of them. The Trojans ranked first in the ACAC in penalty minutes, over 100 ahead of second-place Portage College. 

As for the power play, the Trojans have been good at drawing penalties (first in ACAC with 98), but mediocre at converting their power plays into goals. Devost said that the team was giving up too many shorthanded opportunities.

The team had well over a month between their previous game on Nov. 28 and their return on Jan. 11, but the coach was not concerned about the rust factor.

“I think the biggest way to come back fresh is for the guys to get a nice break and be with their families and wind down a little bit.

“We come back Jan. 2, a little mini-camp if you will before we play on the 11th, so we’ll get seven or eight good skates in.”

The team returns on Jan. 11 at home against the Portage College Voyageurs, the first of three straight home games to start the second half of the season.