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UVic Vikes hockey team aims to pass NCAA tests

The University of Victoria Vikes hockey program has arrived, in a sense, with a scheduling breakthrough and two games against NCAA Div. 1 opponents this weekend.

The University of Victoria Vikes hockey program has arrived, in a sense, with a scheduling breakthrough and two games against NCAA Div. 1 opponents this weekend.

It is unlikely any UVic Vikes team in any sport will play in front of more fans in a single game this season than the hockey team will tonight at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Vikes play head coach Tony Granato’s University of Wisconsin Badgers of the Big Ten and follow up with another exhibition game Sunday in Marquette, Michigan, against the Northern Michigan Wildcats of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

The Badgers draw well in hockey and more than 8,000 fans are expected tonight for the game against UVic. This is a ground-breaking moment for a Vikes program that is non-varsity and operates on a self-funding club basis. The players, all full-time UVic students, are paying for their own flights. The Vikes hockey program business manager and director of operations, Reza Binab, has raised the rest to cover expenses such as hotels, meals and ground transport.

“Wisconsin and Northern Michigan are two incredibly accomplished programs historically,” said Vikes head coach Harry Schamhart, who guided the Vikes to B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League titles in 2007, 2009 and 2012.

“It’s amazing to get a call from Tony Granato [the former NHL player and coach who replaces Mike Eaves as head coach at Wisconsin] earlier this week asking: “Hey, do you guys need anything when you get to Madison?’ ”

Well, a win would be nice.

But that might be a tall request, even against a Badgers team that is rebuilding after two underachieving seasons, and whose last of six NCAA titles was a decade ago in 2006. Badgers forward Luke Kunin is a first-round NHL draft pick, taken 15th overall by the Minnesota Wild in June, and he should be on the U.S. team later this year at the world junior championship. Forward Grant Besse was taken in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL draft by the Anaheim Ducks.

The Vikes answer with 2010 Calgary Flames draft pick Patrick Holland. The 24-year-old former Tri-City Americans WHL forward played pro in the AHL, ECHL, Europe, and in five NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens and is now studying computer science at UVic.

“Patrick has become our quiet leader,” said Schamhart.

“He helps out the younger guys and leads by example by working hard in practice. Our younger players are so excited to be playing with him.”

Key UVic returnees include 2015-16 leading scorer Sean Mueller and third-leading scorer Luciano Somerville from Port Alberni, brother of Victoria Grizzlies defenceman Nico Somerville. Kyle Bird, graduate of the Dauphin Kings and Virden Oil Capitals of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, and veteran Chris Manhas lead the defence. Veteran goaltenders Zack Wear, a graduate of the Peninsula Panthers of the VIJHL, and Scott Legault are both returnees.

The Vikes are making these international exhibitions an annual feature of the program, with tentative plans to play the NCAA Div. 1 double of the University of Alaska-Anchorage and University of Alaska-Fairbanks, followed by the Chinese national team, over the next two years.

Meanwhile, UVic opens the B.C. Intercollegiate regular season next Friday and Saturday against the Trinity Western Spartans at the Ian Stewart Complex.

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