Toronto Maple Leafs forward, Nazem Kadri following practice at Father Bauer Arena at UBC on December 2.

Toronto Maple Leafs forward, Nazem Kadri following practice at Father Bauer Arena at UBC on Friday December 2.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs will play one of the most hotly contested and amped up games in recent Canucks memory. It’s been a dire season for the Canucks, and seeing the Leafs thrive with rookies Auston Mathews and Mitch Marner has left a sour taste with Vancouver hockey fans. When you add in the donnybrook and after the whistle extracurriculars during the Canucks November 5 visit to Toronto. The temperature has been turned up a dial as both teams will hit the ice at Rogers Arena for a game that could have some scores to settle.

Nazem Kadri delivered a questionable hit on Daniel Sedin in the third period with Toronto leading 5-2. Moments earlier, Jannik Hansen was rocked by West Vancouver, and Leafs defender, Morgan Rielly. Matt Martin took liberties into his own hands by going after Canucks rookie, Troy Stecher. Ryan Miller intervened to protect him, and thus ensued another massive kerfuffle.

Fans, media, and pundits across Canada have had Saturday, December 3 circled on their calendar. If you are expecting a line-brawl, and plenty of fisticuffs you could be sorely disappointed. Super pest, Nazem Kadri, was a thorn in the side of the Sedins, and has since made himself known to Edmonton Oilers centre, Connor McDavid.

Kadri could have a target on his back tomorrow, but he wasn’t worried when he held court with the media on Friday.

“I mean, I’ll always prepare,” said Kadri. “I’m not the only guy out there, I have my teammates to help protect me. Like I said, we’re going to be all in it together. Two points is much more important than any revenge in this league and I think both teams are well aware of it.”

The Leafs are focused on picking up two points after dropping a 3-0 decision to the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night. Martin might draw the ire of Erik Gudbranson, Alex Burrows, and Ryan Miller, but he won’t be looking for any opposition trouble. NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety, Stéphane Quintal will be in attendance keeping an eye on things.

Martin knows that emotions are still high, and keeping those in check will be the key to getting a big win.

“I’m sure the league will be paying attention to what’s going on tomorrow,” said Martin. “Like I said, games get emotional some times. It was obviously the most emotional game for us of the season. That game is done and over, tomorrow’s a new game. Will approach that one just like any other one.”

If Gudbranson decides to challenge Martin to an early first period fight, that could put to bed any potential trouble. Getting any possible ruckus out of the game early could be the key to letting the game settle into a back and forth contest. If a questionable hit is delivered by either team, or the Leafs, or perhaps the Canucks turn on the red light with regularity. You never know what could transpire on the ice.

The Canucks are also focused on two points, and that includes the vocal Gudbranson.

“We’re going out to win two points,” admitted Gudbranson.” That’s the best way to hurt them and always will be. It was a tough building to play in when we played there. We want to bring that same toughness in our building, and show our fans that we didn’t forget about that night, and bring back two huge points.”

The Toronto Maple Leafs held practice at Father Bauer Arena at UBC on Friday December 1.

The Toronto Maple Leafs held practice at Father Bauer Arena at UBC on Friday December 1.

Kadri vows not to change the style of play that has worked for him. He’ll be likely shadowing the Sedins, closely checking them in the corners, and leaving them no time and space. Kadri has respect for the Sedins and all that they’ve accomplished in the NHL. However, that doesn’t change his opinion on the blind-side hit he delivered to Daniel Sedin.

“Like I said, I don’t want to revisit this too much,” admitted Kadri. “Obviously I want to finish my check, and I’m happy the league saw it the same way. By no means do I want to see anybody hurt out there. I know he’s a very valuable player to their team. He’s been in the league for a lot of years, so I respect him a ton.”

Matt Martin has become a fan favourite in his first season with the Maple Leafs. He hits hard, sticks up for his teammates, and plays a solid grinder, and enforcer like role. That’s what you need with a young roster featuring phenom Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander.

Martin again downplayed the matchup with the Canucks as a possible vengeful encounter.

“I don’t really hype it up too much,” revealed Martin. “I think that’s for you guys to do and for fans to get involved with. For me, it’s just a new game. It will run it’s course the way it’s played. Will be ready for it, I guess. Like I said, we’re focused on trying to get a win.”

Whichever team can stay out of the box, capitalize on power plays, and play a strong north and south game will come away with the win. We all know that, but it’s important to note, will both teams actually stick to that game plan? Emotions have been boiling. Vancouver isn’t a Stanley Cup contender, and this will be the biggest game of the season.

Toronto will feel the love as hundreds of fans fill Rogers Arena in blue and white Leafs gear. Finishing a current west coast road trip with a wining record is what Martin would most like to see. It all comes down to the usual two points.

“Yeah, I think tomorrow will be important to keep your emotions in check,” said Martin. “Like I said, two points is the most important thing.”

Toronto goalie, Frederik Andersen missed Friday’s practice with the flu. He will start in net on Saturday. The Canucks will counter with Ryan Miller. Former Canucks defenseman, Frank Corrado will be a healthy scratch for Toronto.

UBC Thunderbirds forward Mathea Fischer following practice at Father David Bauer Arena on November 29.

UBC Thunderbirds forward Mathea Fischer following practice at Father David Bauer Arena on November 29.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds continue to dominate Canada West competition and while leaving a trail of losses for the opposition. Led by Coach Graham Thomas, the Thunderbirds have reeled off a twelve game winning streak, and a 13-1 conference record. UBC has held a steady number one Usports ranking for much of the season with no signs of slowing down. Norwegian forward, Mathea Fischer, has played a big part in the UBC high-powered attack that’s averaging 3.5 goals per game.

How did the Oslo, Norway native end up moving to Canada and eventually landing a spot with the UBC Thunderbirds?

“I moved to Ontario in grade 11 to try and get better, develop a little bit more, and play with girls,” said Fischer. “I played with boys until I moved. In grade 12 I was lucky enough to meet up with Graham and get to know Graham, and get a spot here. I moved to a boarding school by myself to Cornwall, Ontario.”

While Canada has a long storied hockey tradition of driving kids to hockey rinks at ridiculous early morning hours, and then gathering around to watch Hockey Night in Canada in the evening. Norway has a bit of a different view on the game Canadians love. Fischer had to play on boys teams because their simply wasn’t enough hockey teams for girls. When she first arrived in Canada, she was quite surprised by the vast number of hockey teams for girls and boys of all ages.

“Playing hockey in Oslo is definitely a big difference from here,” revealed Fischer. “It’s a lot smaller for sure, we’re about 400 girls playing in the whole country. I grew up playing with the boys and looking up to my brother a lot, and wanting to be like him. Coming to Ontario where there is sixty plus teams in a tournament, which is unreal, so much fun. Yeah, I was lucky to get a chance to move over here.”

UBC Thunderbirds forward Mathea Fischer taking in tactics from Coach Graham Thomas during practice on November, 29 at Father Bauer Arena at UBC.

UBC Thunderbirds forward Mathea Fischer taking in important tactics from Coach Graham Thomas during practice on November, 29 at Father David Bauer Arena.

Fischer has found a second home with the UBC Thunderbirds. She is gelling with her teammates and contributing on and off the ice. In first season, she potted 5 goals and 10 assists in 28 games and earned a spot on the Canada West All-Rookie Team. In 11 games this season, she has scored 5 goals and 3 assists.

“I feel like every player on this team has something to contribute,” said Fischer when asked about fitting in. “We all fit together as a group very well. Everyone has a role and plays with their role. I think we all fit together as a whole, and everyone accepts their place in the team.”

It will be a busy December for Fischer who will help Norway’s quest to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Norway will play against Slovakia, Hungary, and Kazakhstan in a qualifying tournament from December 16 – 18.

“I’m going, in the beginning of December to play in an Olympic qualifying tournament with Norway in Stavanger, Norway,” said an excited Fischer. “Four teams in that one. We have to win that one to move onto another one in February, the final Olympic qualifying to make it to Pyeongchang. We’re aiming for the top, just trying to work hard, get the chemistry going with a pre-camp, and trying to go out with a good result.”

The opportunity to play back home in Norway while representing the national team will allow Fischer some quality family time during the UBC Thunderbirds and Canada West Christmas break. Fischer credits her brother, Magnus Fischer, as a huge influence on her hockey career. Getting a chance to play for Norway will give her the chance to show off a few tricks she’s picked up from her big brother.

“I grew up mostly looking up to my brother, to be honest. He made it to the (2014) World Juniors. I came and watched and thought that was super cool and I wanted to play in that situation.” 

Calgary Dinos forward Alexandra Vafina. Photo Credit - David Moll.

Calgary Dinos forward Alexandra Vafina. Photo Credit – David Moll.

VANCOUVER, B.C – Canada West will take a month-long Christmas break following this weeks slate of games. The Calgary Dinos will be hosting USports number one ranked, UBC Thunderbirds at Father David Bauer Arena on Friday and Saturday. The Dinos will look to head into the break by winning their first game since Thursday, October 20, against Mount Royal University.

Forward Alexandra Vafina, has been a bright spot for the 1-13 Dinos. The fourth-year Russian import brings a buzz of excitement whenever she has the puck. After finishing second in Canada West scoring last season, Vafina leads the Dinos with 5 goals and 4 assists in 14 games this season. Personal statistics aren’t what drives Sasha, as she’s affectionately know by her Calgary teammates.

“I mean, it doesn’t matter for me,” admitted Vafina. “I don’t really count numbers, scores, or assists. It’s just a matter of how the team plays and that’s the most important thing for me because, it’s not one person, there are five of us on the ice. That’s our family, so we have to be thinking about everyone else.”

Vafina has been a strong offensive force up front for Calgary. Her skill set sets her apart as one of the most talented university hockey players in Canada. When you watch her skate around the ice and stick-handle through skates, sticks, and flat-footed defenders, you can clearly see the Russian skill-set that so many hockey players from Russian have. That’s not something you commonly see in Canadian born university hockey players.

Calgary Dinos Coach Danielle Goyette, certainly agrees with that notion.

“No, you’re right,” said Goyette. “Sometime they’re a higher risk player, that’s why as a coach you have to live with that. They’re going to take risks, sometimes it’s going to be good, sometimes it’s not going to be good, it’s going to go against the team. As long as she’s learning that process, that I can be high risk in this area, but around the blue line I have to be careful. She’s learning how to be a leader and sometimes it takes a lot of time to learn that part.”

Calgary Dinos forward Alexandra Vafina. Photo Credit - David Moll.

Calgary Dinos forward Alexandra Vafina. Photo Credit – David Moll.

Growing up in Chelyabinsk Russia, Vafina always played hockey. It wasn’t until an opportunity in North American presented her a chance to get a higher education and play the game she loves. Vafina previously played for the University of Minnesota Duluth. Last season was a breakout season with the Dinos, Vafina recorded 14 goals and 21 assists in 28 games. She was named to the Canada West and CIS First All-Star Teams. Having a relationship with Coach Goyette and Russian national teammate, Iya Gavrilova helped Vafina ease into life in Calgary.

“It was really a turning point in my life,” said Vafina when asked about moving to North America. “It’s a great experience and I’m really glad that I made it all the way here. It’s just a choice to come play in the U.S. and then I chose to come to Calgary because, I knew Danielle (Goyette) and my (former) teammate Iya Gavrilova. She also played here, and it was awesome to play with her over in Canada. I’m really glad that I’ve had that opportunity. I have two more years and I’m going to make it as much as I can.”

While Vafina is modest about her skills, talent, and presence on the ice, Goyette sees Vafina taking a bigger step this season into more of a leadership role with the graduated Iya Gavrilova no longer playing for the Dinos. As a leader on the team, losses can be tougher and pressure can start to mount during prolonged losing streaks. Vafina continues to put in the work on and off the ice, and lead by example. Goyette knows how much passion and drive she has.

“She loves the game,” said Goyette. “She’s passionate about the game. You can see it when she plays the game, she’s passionate. She has so much emotion into the game. She wants to do the right thing all the time on the ice. She’s learning how to be a leader. This is a player that’s working so hard every week on skills, working hard in practice. As long as players like Sasha want to get better, that’s the best thing you can ask for as a coach, because it’s fun to work with players like that.”

While the last place Calgary Dinos aren’t having the best of seasons in the competitive Canada West, they always play hard and offer every opponent a tough game. Sasha Vafina has the ability to quickly change the outcome of a game, and that’s why you can never count out the Calgary Dinos with the Russian sniper in the lineup.

VANCOUVER, B.C – Please visit Red Nation Online for my big feature story on Whitecaps FC defender Jordan Harvey.

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UBC Thunderbirds defender Katie Zinn, following a 4-1 win over the Regina Cougars on Friday, November 18.

UBC Thunderbirds defender Katie Zinn, following a 4-1 win over the Regina Cougars on Friday, November 18.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds are off to a flying start to the Canada West season. An 11-1-0 record and a ten game winning streak have the Thunderbirds demolishing the competition as they lead the USports rankings and Canada West. It’s been a complete team effort with everyone contributing on and off the ice.

The versatile Katie Zinn has been a massive part of the UBC success. The fifth-year Thunderbird was asked to move to a new position to help out the team on the back-end.

“It’s kind of funny,” said Zinn. “I’ve played forward my entire life and this is my last year of competitive hockey. I’ve decided not to go pro. I’ve decided to switch to D (defense), it’s what the team needed. It’s been challenging, but I really like the change. I’m really embracing the change, and I’ve really enjoyed it so far.”

The current UBC roster has eight natural defenders, but a subsequent rash of injuries has resulted in Zinn patrolling the blue line. Mairead Bast missed Friday’s game against the Regina Cougars, Alexa Ranahan was unavailable the next afternoon, and Kirsten Toth is recovering from a long-term injury. Zinn has adjusted to playing with a range of defensive partners this season.

“I’ve worked with all the D and there’s no-one I really don’t have chemistry with, that I’ve found. Everyone’s really easy to work with and they all help me out, when there’s things I don’t understand. It’s just been really great working with everyone.”

UBC Thunderbirds Assistant Coach, Mike Sommer picked up the 4-1 win over the Cougars on Friday. Having Zinn playing defense allows UBC to add an extra offensive threat on the back-end. A puck moving defender is always a huge asset, and Zinn has been able to transition to her new position smoothly.

“Katie Zinn, she’s been a big part of our back-end, all eight of our players,” revealed Sommer. “We do have some injuries right now as part of the defensive core. Katie Zinn, she brings a great offensive skill-set to her game. Along with that, she competes hard on pucks, which is something I know she’s been wanting to work on. She was good for us today.”

The Coquitlam native, has 1 assist, and 0 penalty minutes in 9 games this season. Her biggest contribution has been on special teams, and helping to shut-down the oppositions top players. Once UBC starts to get some healthy bodies on the blue line, will we see Zinn moving back up to play forward?

“I’m not really sure,” admitted Zinn. “It’s just a wherever they need me kind of thing. I just want to help out where I can, forward or D, I just want to be on the ice.”

While you might think that Zinn models her game after famous forward turned defender, Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks. Her inspiration comes from someone a little closer to home who always made time to teach her the game of hockey, and how to skate backwards.

“Yeah, it was definitely my Dad,” said Zinn. “He was my coach all through my minor hockey career. He played at a really high level, so he’s always been an inspiration for me.”

The Thunderbirds are on the road this weekend as they travel to Calgary to take on Mount Royal University. You can bet that Katie Zinn will be bringing her two-way game as UBC looks to extend a ten game winning streak.

UBC Thunderbirds forward, Jenna Carpenter-Boesch following practice on Wednesday, November 16.

UBC Thunderbirds forward, Jenna Carpenter-Boesch following practice on Wednesday, November 16.

VANCOUVER, B.C – It’s going to be a family affair at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre with UBC’s Jenna Carpenter-Boesch going up against Regina’s Lilla Carpenter-Boesch. The Thunderbirds and Cougars will feature a first time Canada West sibling rivalry between the Gray, Saskatchewan natives.

Jenna is in her fifth year with the UBC, and younger sister Lilla, is in her rookie season with Regina. The Carpenter-Boesch sisters grew up playing hockey in a unique town 40 km southeast of Regina.

“It was very small,” said Jenna Carpenter-Boesch. “We always went to the rink every Friday and Sunday. We scrimmaged a lot on the ice, we did a lot of shinny out there. It was a nice small town community feel. (A) you know everyone kind of thing. It was fun place to grow up in.”

Having special access to the local rink helped develop both Jenna, Lilla, as well as their sister Jylelle Carpenter-Boesch, who most recently played for the Nipissing University Lakers last season.

“We played a lot because my dad was a board member of the rink,” said Lilla Carpenter-Boesch. “We got to work on our shots and be on the ice all the time. Being around that community definitely helped me develop as a player, there were always people around to teach you skills and help you improve.”

Heading into the battle on the ice, UBC remains atop the USports rankings for the fourth week in a row with a 9-1-0 record. Regina are 6-4-0 this season and sitting in fourth position in Canada West. This is going to be a measuring stick for the Cougars and Lilla Carpenter-Boesch can’t wait.

“I’m really excited, there’s been a bit of friendly trash talk going on already. UBC is a really good team so it should be a good game. There’s a lot of hype around their team, so we’ll need to not put too much pressure on our systems and habits and not over think the game.”

Speaking of trash talking, you can tell that a friendly war of words has broken out between the Carpenter-Boesch combatants. The eldest, could get the last laugh on the scoreboard and in the corners.

“Yeah, she’s definitely been trash talking me. It’s very competitive, I don’t know if we’ll be friends after the game. She’s a bit of a hot head, so it’ll be exciting to play against her.”

The Carpenter-Boesch’s can do much more than trash talk. Both have been productive scorers this season for the Thunderbirds, and Cougars, respectively. Lilla scored a goal and an assist in her Canada West debut on Friday, October 7. She has put up 2 goals and 2 assists in 10 games. Jenna scored her first goal and assist of the season on Friday, November 4, at Lethbridge.

Who is the more talented and skilled Carpenter-Boesch? That depends on who you ask.

“I’d say Jenna is more skilled defensively,” revealed Lilla Carpenter-Boesch. “I think I’m able to anticipate things and stick-handle around defenders a bit better. Jenna finds her success by working really hard, and I think it has come more naturally to me.”

“Probably her,” said Jenna Carpenter-Boesch. “She’s more of a playmaker, and better at scoring, but I’m a harder worker. I think she’s learning a lot with her team so she’ll come out better than I saw her last.”

There will be a large Carpenter-Boesch contingent in the stands. Parents are flying in, aunts, uncles, and cousins will be visiting from Seattle for the epic showdown. The Carpenter-Boesch’s will also be having a big American Thanksgiving celebration.

UBC Thunderbirds Coach, Graham Thomas will try to get both sisters on the ice for a few shifts.

“It’s pretty neat for them,” said Thomas. “I know the family’s coming out, I’m sure they’ve had it circled on their calendar for a while. We know the family so well, we’ve got to know the family the last five years. We go (visit) when we’re in Regina every year. They’re such gracious hosts and they cook for us, we go to their house for a meal as a team every year. It’s amazing food.”

At one point there was a possibility that Lilla Carpenter-Boesch would join her sister in a UBC Thunderbirds jersey. In the end, UBC wasn’t able to offer an available opportunity.

“We’ve got to know Lilla quite a bit,” said Thomas. “We were actually interested in recruiting her. We didn’t have enough available spots that year. She’s a good player, I know of her, I know the family extremely well. It’ll be special for the sisters and both teams.”

Now that Lilla has settled in with the Regina Cougars everything has worked out. Yes, it would have been nice to have both Carpenter-Boesch sisters playing for one Canada West team, but player movement isn’t always easy to put together. Before deciding, Lilla was able to talk to Jenna about life at UBC.

“Being the youngest sister, I wanted to be closer to home. I was looking for a smaller-sized school, because I had heard from Jenna that it can be tough to be a student-athlete at a big school. I had a good experience meeting with Coach (Sarah) Hodges and the rest of the team – everyone was really friendly and it made me feel welcome.”

“I wanted her to come here, but obviously it didn’t really work out,” said Jenna Carpenter-Boesch. “I think Regina’s good for her because it’s kind of a smaller feel and she’s closer to home. I think it’s good to have that support system close to home for her. Also, Regina’s a good team, and they were really interested in her. It was a good decision for her.”

The off ice banter will take a back seat for sixty-minutes on Friday and Saturday. It will be a special for Jenna, Lilla, and the family, and friends that have supported them along the way. There will be goals, assists, penalties, power-plays, and if you listen carefully, a roar from the crowd when the Carpenter-Boesch sisters step on the ice.

 

UBC Thunderbirds vs Regina Cougars 

Friday, November 18, 2016

7:00 p.m.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

4:00 p.m.

VANCOUVER, B.C – Please visit Red Nation Online for my Vancouver Whitecaps offseason goalkeeper story.

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