New year, new faces, new start for Eastern hockey
Eagles bank on roster additions, more games at home to make strides in BCIHL standings
The new year means a new start for Eastern Washington University’s hockey team as the Eagles begin the second half of the season Friday at the Student Recreation Center.
Back from the holiday break the Eagles get the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League’s best to test them in a three-game home stand that begins with a visit from Simon Fraser, Friday at 7 p.m. After playing eight of their first 12 games on the road, the Eagles stay home for games Saturday, Jan. 19 versus Trinity Western University at 7 p.m. and then Sunday in a 3 p.m. faceoff against the upstart Selkirk College Saints from Castlegar.
The Clansmen, defending regular season champions out of the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, British Columbia, have been the BCIHL bullies winning two of the last three league and playoff championships.
They were upset in last year’s tournament by the University of Victoria but have a 10-1 record this year with an overtime loss – 4-3 in a shootout to EWU Oct. 6 at home.
The Saints are the story of the year in the BCIHL with a worst to first leap that has seen them go from a last place finish in 2011-12 to a perfect 12-0. Selkirk owns a pair of wins over Eastern, both on the road.
“We will see a steady diet of Simon Fraser and Selkirk in the second half,” second-year Eastern coach Bill Shaw said. “(So) we can’t put too much pressure on one game, but they are on top of the league with Selkirk.”
With the new year, and new school terms for all schools in the league, Shaw expects to see different faces on the ice for the opponents.
If Eastern’s 4-7-1 won-lost record in their first pass through the schedule – and three straight losses before Christmas – is to improve, it might hinge in part on a pair of recent additions to the team.
Forward Matt Hanson from the Tri Cities agreed to join the Eagles for the remainder of the season in December. Hanson enrolled at EWU after taking a year off from hockey and school at the University of Idaho.
“Matt’s decision to transfer to Eastern was made because of his choice to major in the popular mechanical engineering program,” Shaw said.
Hanson should be a good fit because of his time playing junior hockey in Tri Cities and at the U of I where he played with and against some of the current EWU team members.
“Whenever you bring in a new player you wonder about the fit, but when you add a player that has experience with your current players it alleviates most of that concern,” Shaw said.
Another new addition is yet another Tri Cities native, Chase Wharton a 5-foot, 7-inch, 170-pound defenseman.
Wharton joins the Eagles after spending the beginning of the 2012-13 season with the Huntsville Havoc of the Southern Professional Hockey League where he played just six games. “The great thing about the BCIHL is that it allows Chase an opportunity to return and play in college even though he played a few games of professional hockey,” Shaw said.
Prior to his stint in Alabama, Wharton played two years for the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League where he competed in the Royal Bank Cup, Canada’s Jr. A National Championship. “We tried to get Chase to come to Eastern after last season, but he wanted to try the professional route,” Shaw said.
The Eagles also get Tyler Mort back from injury. The freshman out of Post Falls, Idaho has yet to play a game this season after seeing action in 10 games following his arrival from Trail of the British Columbia Hockey League.
Freshman Uriah Machuga, a freshman and former Spokane Brave out of Norco, Calif. leads the team in scoring with 8 goals and 5 assists in 12 games. Wenatchee sophomore Jake Flynn (6-6-12) and Spokane’s Ryan Pajimola, a junior left wing (5-6-11). Goaltenders Cash Ulrich and Jason Greenwell are both sophomores from Spokane. Each have played all in part or all of seven games with Ulrich sporting a 3.92 goals against average and a 3-3 record while Greenwell has a 4.57 GAA, a 1-5 record but has the Eagles only shutout versus Trinity.
But Shaw sees technique over talent as a critical aspect of success moving forward.
“The biggest thing we need to do is control the puck,” Shaw said. In the past we have gotten ourselves into trouble by turning the puck over.” Both Simon Fraser and Selkirk have great skill players, but they can only hurt you if they have the puck, Shaw said.
And there’s probably nothing better than a test from the best to see if there’s a new road to success ahead for Eastern hockey.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.