NANAIMO — The local hockey landscape continues to change with the addition of a university level hockey team at VIU.
In the 1970's and early 80's Malaspina College had a team, but there haven't been many opportunities for high level players in their 20's to play anything outside of beer league hockey for the last 30 years.
After a 5-0 exhibition record the VIU Mariners open their first BCIHL season Saturday at the NIC against Trinity Western University.
Coach Steve Paul says the Mariners will be a fast, exciting team that will play an offensive style.
He's recruited a team of players from different hockey backgrounds including the WHL, BCHL, and VIJHL.
Paul says it was as important for him to have a roster filled with character people as it was to have players with the necessary hockey skills.
Former Nanaimo Clipper Ryan Coghlan will be the Mariners first captain, and Paul tabbed him as a team leader well before he even had a full roster.
"Ryan Coghlan's been our captain from day one," said Paul. "I think we have a good leadership group to lead the charge. I have no doubts in that at all."
There has been a void in Nanaimo for quite some with players not having competitive teams to join after the age of 20 or 21.
However it's not just an issue here.
Senior hockey used to be an outlet for players after junior, and it was also popular with fans.
Now there are very few senior teams in BC but a league like the BCIHL could carve out it's own niche.
Paul believes there is tremendous potential for this brand of hockey.
"A lot of guys get stuck with their mouth hanging open knowing that their careers are finished at 20 and they still want to continue on," said Paul. "What better way to continue on than to go to school and still maintain your competitiveness. Around this area we've had nothing for years and there are a lot of good hockey players on this island."
The BCIHL has six teams, including another island team at UVIC.
Trinity Western and SFU play out of the lower mainland, Selkirk College covers the interior, and there's also a team at Eastern Washington University.
According to Paul there is a possibility of two Okanagan teams joining as soon as next season.
The Mariners will have a 26 game schedule this year that concludes in early March.
Paul says he's seen increasing support from the VIU student population as the exhibition season has progressed, and that support from the community has been there from the beginning.
A complete schedule and information on the team roster are available at www.viumariners.ca.
On twitter: @danmarshall77
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