Harry Schamhart coached the University of Victoria to its third BC Intercollegiate Hockey League title in the last six years and while the Nelson Minor Hockey grad basks in the impressive achievement, he has a much more global goal in mind.
Earlier this month Schamhart and the Vikes wore the underdog label proudly when they knocked off the heavily favoured Simon Fraser University Clan in the league championship in Kamloops.
“We had a lot of injuries this year, we had some graduate at Christmas and others left the team to focus on their studies. We went to that tournament with 18 players and the boys really pulled together,” said Schamhart, who grew up in Nelson.
“This group of guys basically decided they were not going to give up and play right to the end. They were successful because of their work ethic.”
Victoria entered the playoffs after finishing fourth in the seven-team league during the regular season. Simon Fraser finished 16 points ahead of the Vikes and were the league’s dominant team since October.
“For a lot of these guys, this was their last opportunity to play at this level,” said Schamhart. “We told them to have no regrets and leave everything on the ice… that’s what we did as a team.”
The teams played to a 3-3 stalemate after regulation time and 34 seconds into the extra frame Victoria captain Dustin Taylor scored the overtime winner.
Coming off the impressive victory, Schamhart said he was proud of his team and also proud of the league. A league he helped create.
Since he was 15 and growing up in Nelson, Schamhart has been coaching hockey. Though an accomplished player himself — he played for the Nelson Junior Leafs and the junior A in Prince Albert — it is behind the bench where he has found his true passion.
Growing up, the now 50-year-old Schamhart was coached by local bench legends like Bill McDonnell, Hugh Hooker, Frank Carlson, Ted Hargraves and Ernie Gare.
“For me having the people coaching me when I was growing up in Nelson… they were great role models for us,” he told the Star. “We were always hard working teams and a lot of the guys went onto to play junior A and beyond. I have great memories of junior hockey in Nelson.”
After graduating from L.V. Rogers in 1979, Schamhart moved onto the University of British Columbia where he was in the education program. Hanging up the skates from competitive hockey, Schamhart continued to coach minor hockey all over the Lower Mainland.
When he moved to Vancouver Island — where he switched career directions and is now a police officer with the Saanich Police Department — he stayed behind the minor hockey bench.
Seven years ago, Schamhart and some other hockey enthusiasts began tossing around the idea of creating a new hockey league at schools around British Columbia that had club teams that were limited to intramural leagues.
“We felt there was a niche in BC for university/college hockey,” said Schamhart.
Along came the upstart BC Intercollegiate Hockey League.
“We are seeing good hockey players [out of junior A] who are not getting scholarships,” he said. “The Division III hockey programs in the US cost the parents money to play. It’s cheaper for a kid to have an opportunity to play hockey in Canada… it’s money better spent.”
Though the league is still in relative infancy, Schamhart said it is starting to attract better players and the level of competition has increased significantly since the first couple years.
“The saying for my team is: pursuit of education, pursuit of passion,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to come and play hockey, then who knows. I’ve had a couple kids get professional tryouts off my team and so have other teams. Kids are getting a chance to play in Europe and in the Central Hockey League after playing in this league.”
One of Schamhart’s prouder moments as a league founder is when Selkirk College joined the BCIHL a couple years back.
“I am really happy to see Selkirk in the mix. I’m a Kootenay boy, I grew up Nelson and went to Selkirk College,” he said.
Though Selkirk has yet to become a serious threat to his own team in Victoria, Schamhart is confident that it’s only a matter of time.
“One of the things that makes it a little more difficult is that they are not degree granting so they are recruiting kids for two years, not four years,” he said. “But they also have the trades and a lot of hockey players become tradesmen. It takes a lot of hard work to build a program and Selkirk is moving in the right direction. It could be a very successful program.”
Though Schamhart is starting to build a legendary reputation in the league, it’s not personal success he is after at this point. Trusting the lessons from men who taught him hockey and life in Nelson as beacon, Schamhart’s main goal is to enhance the game he loves.
“The league is continuously growing and getting better,” he said. “That’s a good feeling.”