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Veterans look to lead Vikes soccer teams back to the promised land

This is the playoffs. It is when veterans are expected to come to the fore.
This is the playoffs. It is when veterans are expected to come to the fore.

“I had separate talks with both of my captains [fifth-year standouts Cam Hundal and Craig Gorman] and told them that not only do they have to get the team ready mentally, I also need performances out of both of them,” said University of Victoria Vikes head coach Bruce Wilson.

Wilson’s Vikes (6-3-3 for second place in the Pacific Division) meet Ryan Gyaki’s Mount Royal Cougars of Calgary (7-4-1 for third place in the Prairie Division) in a Canada West Conference men’s soccer quarter-final game tonight at 7:15 at Centennial Stadium. The winner advances to next weekend’s semifinals.

Hundal tied for third in Canada West regular-season scoring with eight goals, while Gorman was also in the top-10 with six goals. For five seasons, they have combined to create much offensive artistry at Centennial Stadium, including winning the CIS national championship as freshmen on home turf in 2011. Now, they are being tasked to lead the Vikes to one more run at glory.

Hundal was tied for third in Canada West with five assists and tied for second in league points with 13. Gorman led Canada West in shots with 48.

“We came into the program together, not knowing each other, but our on-field relationship grew and we got to know each other’s tendencies so well,” said Hundal, of his chemistry with Gorman.

“That helps in creating chances and gives an advantage against defences. No way does it feel like five years have gone by.”

Hundal, named Canada West male athlete for this week, is a kinesology major and said he hopes to explore opportunities to play pro next season.

The Cougars look to be dangerous, too. Cody Cook led Mount Royal offensively with five goals this season and was second in Canada West with eight assists and tied with Hundal for second in points with 13 behind Dominic Russo of the Calgary Dinos with 19. Lewis Odosa and Drake Rendle added four goals each for the Cougars.

Noah Pawlowski had a .654 save percentage in goal for UVic and Kamil Zielinski a league seventh-ranked .683 for the Cougars. Zielinski recorded a Canada West third-best goals-against average of 1.20 and Pawlowski a sixth-best 1.50.

Mount Royal bench-boss Gyaki has led the Cougars to their first-ever Canada West playoff appearance. Gyaki said in a statement that both teams are skilled, so discipline could prove the difference.

“Simple is usually better,” he said.

“Under the lights on a Friday night. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Meanwhile, there won’t be any surprises when the UVic Vikes (7-3-4) meet the Fraser Valley Cascades (8-4-2) in an all-Pacific Division women’s soccer Canada West playoff quarter-final game Saturday in Abbotsford.

The Vikes will be looking for large doses of revenge. The Cascades have proven a thorny opponent. Last year, they stunned the favoured and nationally top-five ranked Vikes 3-0 in the 2014 playoff quarter-final at Centennial Stadium. And last week at Centennial Stadium, the Cascades scored late in the final 2015 regular-season game to gain a 2-2 tie against UVic and a crucial point to finish ahead of the Vikes and secure home field for the playoff game Saturday. It will be the first home playoff game in franchise history for the Cascades.

Both Vikes-Cascades regular-season games ended in draws.

“We didn’t get home field but we have to get past that and move forward,” said UVic head coach Tracy David.

“We have to be defensively sound with no mistakes in the back. In the middle, we need to be physical and defend against their transition game, which is very good. Up front, we need to finish chances. It’s field turf, so the weather won’t be a worry.”