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Saints add trio to already solid blueline core

Selkirk College Saints recruit Vince Bitonti will be back in familiar surroundings at the start of the 2018-2019 British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League season. Last year’s captain of the Castlegar Rebels, Bitonti will help bulk up the Saints blueline. — Photo courtesy Selkirk College Saints

The Selkirk College Saints ability to keep the puck out of the back of the net in the upcoming British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) season has been bolstered by the addition of a trio of towering defencemen.

When the 2018-2019 season opens next month, the Saints blueline corps will welcome Brendan Campbell, Vince Bitonti and Joe Gage. All three defencemen have resumes that include team leadership, physicality, strong work ethic, offensive touch and league championships.

“Our program has always placed an emphasis on defence,” says Saints head coach Brent Heaven. “Making it difficult for the opponent to score is what ultimately defines a championship team. The addition of these three proven defencemen to what is already a very solid unit takes us to the next level.”

Campbell joins the Saints after a season with the Trinity Western University Spartans, helping capture that school’s first BCIHL championship trophy last March when they defeated the Saints in the final series. The 6’3” Cloverdale native finished his junior career in Timmins, Ontario before moving back to British Columbia to start post-secondary at Langley-based TWU where he quickly established a reputation on the ice as a strong skater and tough defender.

“I decided to transfer to Selkirk College because they have a reputation of having an outstanding hockey program and having the opportunity to play in a small community my last year of junior, I really came to love the small town atmosphere,” says Campbell, who will be taking classes in the Business Administration Program. “This, along with the small class sizes, makes Selkirk College a perfect fit for me.”

Originally from Calgary, Bitonti is a familiar face to West Kootenay hockey fans having played his final three seasons of junior hockey with the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s (KIJHL) Castlegar Rebels. The captain of the Rebels last season, the 6’2” Bitonti was a force both defensively and offensively where he scored 20 goals and added 33 assists on his way to being named the KIJHL’s top defenceman.

“I will be bringing a positive attitude and 200-foot style of game to the Saints,” says Bitonti, who is also enroled in the Business Administration Program. “A big part of why I have chosen to come to Selkirk College is the hockey team’s consistent focus on excellence and a community that is familiar to me. This is a great chance to attend school and continue playing hockey.”

Gage arrives to Selkirk College from the powerhouse Campbell River Storm organization where he helped the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) team claim a championship last spring. Known as a reliable puck-moving defenceman, at 6’2” Gage is also a pillar in the defensive zone. During the 2016-2017 season, Gage was named the VIJHL’s top defenceman.

“I have heard that Selkirk College has the best fans in the league and I am looking forward to being part of that atmosphere,” says Gage, who will join the other two defence recruits in the Business Administration Program.

The trio will join returning defencemen Jackson Bruce-Fuoco, Parker Wakaruk, Brayden McCartney and Cole Arcuri on the Saints blueline that has the potential to be the best in the league.

“If we are to bring a championship back to the West Kootenay at the end of the season, it will take a commitment to defence,” says Heaven. “With two strong goaltenders [Patrick Zubick and Tallon Kramer] and this line-up, teams will have a difficult time playing against us this season.”

The Saints begin training camp next month at the Castlegar & District Recreation Centre.

Joe Gage will follow in the footsteps of several other Campbell River Storm graduates like Dane Feeney, Brayden McCartney, Jordan Rauser and Nathan Browne who graduated from junior hockey to the Selkirk College Saints. — Photo courtesy Selkirk College Saints