It has become a holiday tradition for the St. F.X. X-Men basketball program.
This year, once again, the Blue and White will tip-off in the Rod and Joan Shoveller Memorial Men’s Basketball Tournament, hosted by the Dalhousie Tigers.
The three-day, eight-team exhibition event, which is celebrating its 26th anniversary, will take place Dec. 29 to 31 at Dalplex in Halifax.
“We have had a long time off, particularly this year,” X-Men head coach Steve Konchalski said.
After a 0-3 start to the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) regular season, the X-Men won three out of four games before the Christmas break, including consecutive wins – on back-to-back nights – over the Acadia Axemen and Cape Breton Capers.
“We were starting to establish ourselves and then we will have had a break for a month,” Konchalski said, noting the goal is to minimize the layoff’s effect on the momentum the X-Men were able to build after their slow start to the regular campaign.
He said the goal is for the X-Men to be “refreshed” and continue to work with their “lessons learned,” so far this season, when they get back on the court.
The X-Men will open tournament action Friday (Dec. 29), at 3 p.m., when they face the Axemen.
“They have the biggest frontline in the league, which presents a great challenge,” Konchalski said of Acadia, while noting forwards Rhys Larry and Erik Nissen are both 6’9”.
With that in mind, he added, rebounding is going to be a key factor.
“We have to focus on that against them,” Konchalski said.
He noted the Axemen like to play a “controlled game,” while the X-Men want to “run on them.”
“I think we match-up pretty well with Acadia,” Konchalski said.
The rivals have played twice in the regular season, with the Axemen winning by three and the X-Men garnering a two-point victory.
St. F.X. will play two more match-ups – one each Saturday (Dec. 30) and Sunday (Dec. 31) – with the time and opponent determined by the result of each preceding game.
Along with the X-Men, Axemen and host Tigers, the field includes the Saint Mary’s Huskies, Mount Saint Vincent Mystics, UPEI Panthers, Concordia Stingers and UNBC Timberwolves.
Looking ahead to the second half of the conference regular season, Konchalski said he expects All-Canadian fifth-year forward Kevin Bercy “to step it up.”
Although the Kanata, Ontario native is averaging 18.4 points and eight rebounds per game, Konchalski said he thinks his star – early on – has been feeling the effects of spending more than one month over the summer as a member of Team Canada – a squad that competed in the Summer Universiade in Chinese Taipei.
“It was a great honour and certainly a goal for Kevin – a very positive experience,” Konchalski said.
Nevertheless, noting his power forward has dealt with knee and back injuries throughout his university career, the veteran bench boss said he thinks the experience “has taken a toll – both physically and mentally.”
“I think Kevin wore down a little bit in the first half,” Konchalski said.
The X-Men will return to regular season action Saturday, Jan. 6, when they travel to Charlottetown to face the Panthers.
They return home to Coach K Court at Oland Centre – Wednesday, Jan. 10 – when they host the Axemen in an 8 p.m. tip-off.
The St. F.X. X-Women, who will also take the court against the Panthers, on the road, will open the home court doubleheader, at 6 p.m., against the U SPORTS top-ranked Acadia Axewomen.