(BEN NELMS for UBC)

UBC Thunderbirds forward, Emily Costales. Photo Credit: Ben Nelms for UBC.

VANCOUVER, B.C – In a season full of new faces the UBC Thunderbirds are a team looking to connect, and find the right chemistry as they gear up for the second half of the Canada West season in January. The 10-6-0 Thunderbirds haven’t quite hit their stride yet, but they are working hard, and building towards what could be a long playoff run.

One of the new faces this season is Emily Costales, a transfer from Syracuse University, the hometown winger is trying to fit in with a UBC team that has been there, and done it before. It has taken time for the Canada West rookie to find a role with the team, but Costales is finally settling in and contributing on and off the ice.

“I’m feeling a little bit better, I feel like coming in as a transfer, it’s kind of hard to find your role on the team,” Costales admitted. “I feel like the past few weeks, I’ve been able to grasp where I’m at on the team. Hopefully it just keeps building from there. I feel like I’ve just got to stay out of the penalty box, and play the role that I’ve developed here.”

When she is staying out of the box, Costales has been a special teams spark plug for UBC. Not only is she an asset when the team is killing a penalty, but she is tied for first overall in Canada West short-handed goals. Costales is always looking to dig out a loose puck along the boards, or battle for possession below the hash-marks. More often than not, she’s winning those battles, and helping UBC in transition.

“I try my hardest to be one of the grittiest players out there,” Costales said. “Just grind, and win every battle I can, just trying to bring a calming presence, and make the right plays, at the right time.”

Her dogged determination, and compete level have helped her rack up 4 goals, and 3 assists this season. UBC Thunderbirds Coach Graham Thomas, isn’t surprised by what Costales has been able to bring to the team. He first coached her as an assistant coach when Costales was on Team B.C. in grade 12.

“She’s really coming on right now,” Thomas revealed. “She’s finding her game, and she’s playing confident. She plays with a lot of power, and energy. A power forward, but can also be shifty. We’re going to need her to continue to play the way she’s playing, and lead by example.”

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UBC Thunderbirds forward, Emily Costales.

The support network for Costales was a big factor in her decision to move from ‘The Orange’ to the Thunderbirds program. Playing so far away from home was a new experience for Costales. In the end it made more sense to return home to her familiar roots on the west coast.

“I had a great time out in Syracuse, but I got pretty homesick,” Costales revealed. “There was some family issues and stuff. I decided to come back home, and play with some of my close friends, Celine Tardif and Brielle Bellerive. I’m living at home right now so, it’s really nice to settle back home and been with the family.”

Being able to play in her own backyard has helped Costales settle into her new surroundings with Thunderbirds. She has a huge family support network that you can often hear at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre cheering her on, and giving an earful to the referees.

“My mom, and dad are pretty much my biggest fans. I feel like my dad kind of brought me to where I am, he’s such a big support network, just himself. He’s a huge reason why I feel like I’m very succesful in sport. He’s just there whenever I need help. It’s just so nice to play in front of him again. I feel like I get extra hyped, because I know that they’re watching. It means the world to me, I love it so much.”

The Costales family will next have an opportunity to watch UBC on January 5 – 6 when the Thunderbirds host the Calgary Dinos at UBC’s Father David Bauer Arena. UBC will be hoping to start the new year on a positive note as they push towards Canada West playoffs and perhaps another trip to USports nationals.

“We kind of play it day, by day, because there’s so many new faces,” Costales said, when asked about USports nationals. “We’re trying to be true to the Thunderbird mentality, and whatever comes with that. That’s pretty much the end goal, to make it to nationals, but we’ve got to take it step by step.”

Costales and the ‘New Kids’ on the Thunderbird block will indeed be taking it, ‘Stept by Step’ this season.

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The UBC Thunderbirds hard at work preparing to take on the Manitoba Bisons this weekend in Winnipeg.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The first half of the Canada West season is about to come to an end this weekend, but not before a massive matchup between the UBC Thunderbirds and Manitoba Bisons on Friday, and Saturday in Winnipeg. The 11-3-0 Canada West leaders are on a nine-game winning streak as they host 9-5-0 UBC.

Manitoba, Alberta, and UBC have dominated the USports rankings this season, but it’s the Bisons who are slotted 4th, with Alberta 1st, and UBC 2nd. The Bisons nine-game winning streak is a fantastic first half achievement. It could be a sign of bigger things to come, so what’s been the key to their success?

“Probably biggest factor is confidence knowing we can be successful in tight low scoring games or in games that open up more. We are also getting contributions from a lot of different people,” Coach Jon Rempel said.

At the other end of the rink, UBC Coach Graham Thomas is preparing his team to navigate a few obstacles as they head out on the road to wrangle up some Bisons.

“It’s going to be real tough,” Thomas admitted. “It looks like they’ve got a full healthy lineup too. They’re 9 – 0 in their last nine so they’re going to be playing really well. There always hard to play in their barn. There’s definitely going to be a lot of adversity, challenges. We’re traveling, time change, the rink. Those challenges are going to be there for us. It’s going to be a big physical, and mental challenge for us. We’ve got to pull through. It’s going to be a tight series.”

It’s going to be a home-coming of sorts for several Thunderbirds. Madison Patrick, Jaedon Cooke, Tory Micklash, Kenzie Robinson, and Karlee Mazor all hail from “Friendly Manitoba.” Mazor, in her first season with UBC will have a large contingent of supporters at Wayne Fleming Arena.

“I’m super excited just to play in front of my friends, and family,” an excited Mazor said. “My parents, grandparents, all my family, hairdresser, they’re all coming.”

While both teams will want to end the first half on a positive note, UBC is looking at the bigger picture. The Thunderbirds want to continue to trust the process by skating, and putting together a pair of solid sixty-minute games. If they can earn results that would be great, but it’s all down to the process.

“I think the process is more important,” revealed Thomas. “We’re building on what we want to see as a staff, and as with the players. More importantly, I think the biggest goal for us this weekend, is competing hard, and finishing strong together, and getting some momentum. Obviously getting the sweep or getting two wins, is the best way to do that. We also want to be realistic, and know that they’re going to be tough, and intense games.”

Having watched Alberta and UBC both bring home medals from USports nationals last spring, you might think that Manitoba are on a mission to prove that they can beat Alberta, and UBC. That’s simply not the case, the Bisons are solely focused on themselves, and what they can control.

“We only have to keep proving to ourselves that we are a good solid team and keep improving.” Rempel said. 

A former St. Mary’s Academy player, Mazor knows that it’s going to take a complete UBC team effort against Manitoba. Playing smart, but physical hockey means staying out of the box, and capitalizing on special teams. Mazor is expecting to see a similar series after the teams split the season opening matchup. A 5-4 win for Manitoba, and a 4-1 UBC win.

“I think they’re going to be a super tough team, very aggressive,” Mazor said. “Last time we played them, they were very aggressive, hard on the puck, big bodies. so I think we just need to match that.”

UBC and Manitoba are going to be competing neck and neck in the standings, and rankings this season. This series could be an appetizer for a potential playoff showdown in February, and both teams will want positive results to look back on.

VANCOUVER, B.C – Please visit Red Nation Online for my story on Davide Chiumiento and a possible return to Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

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Free Agent, Davide Chiumiento training at B.C. Place with Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

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The UBC Thunderbirds preparing to take on the Alberta Pandas this weekend at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds and Alberta Pandas will be in a battle as the top two teams in USports face off on Friday and Saturday at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. The reigning USports champs bring an 8-2-2 record, against a Thunderbirds team with a 8-4-0 record, and surprising 3-3-0 record at home.

It’s been uncharacteristic for UBC to struggle at home and they’ll be looking to change that.

“It’s been something that hasn’t been a challenge for us in the past,” Coach Graham Thomas admitted. “I think it’s more so at that time of year some things that we needed to work on and learn. It’s too bad that the timing was a home game. I don’t think it has anything to do with home vs away. I think it’s just how we were playing at the time. It’s been really good building on some things, plays, rolls, creating offence, and attacking. The things we’ve been working have been good. They’re starting to come. We’re right there.”

You can sense that there is extra motivation for the Thunderbirds. While UBC beat Alberta for the Canada West Championship, it was the Pandas that claimed the ultimate prize. It’s Alberta, and not UBC that’s the team to beat. The Thunderbirds come into the series as rare underdogs. They want to show Alberta, Canada West, and themselves that they can compete, and still win big games.

“For us, it’s kind of neat,” Thomas said. “We’re usually the ones with everyone coming with their best at us, fired up to play us because we’re number one. It’s kind of nice to come into the weekend a little bit the underdog. Also, where do we stand up against the defending national champs. It’ll be good to see where we gauge ourselves. We’re excited for the challenge. It’s going to be a fast paced game, and we’re looking forward to it.”

UBC’s Hannah Clayton-Carroll is tied for first in the league with 7 goals. She has a nose for the net, and will be looking to pounce on any loose pucks. The Vancouver native, admits that UBC need to be switched on, focused, and sharper from the first whistle if they’re to get a result vs Alberta.

“I think we’re going to be a lot more focused this weekend,” said Clayton-Carroll. “For sure we want to come out strong on Friday night, bring our best, try to have a little rematch from nationals, and see where it goes. We’re trying to be sharper. We’re not struggling too much, but we’re having a little trouble bringing focus to the game. Hopefully we’re going to be crisp, and sharp this weekend.”

Anytime UBC and Alberta take each other on, it’s a circle on the calendar for Thunderbirds assistant captain, Kirsten Toth. The former Alberta defender always has a grin and a look of determination when Alberta is the opponent. The Thunderbirds, and Pandas bring out the best in each other, and Toth can’t wait to hit the ice.

“I’ve been looking forward to it,” Toth said, following practice this week. “I think as a team, we’ve been looking forward to it. It’s always a quick, fast paced series. It’s good hockey. They’re the most exciting games to play in, so we’ve just been preparing to get ready for them.”

The outspoken fifth-year veteran took a moment to pause when asked about personal motivation against Alberta.

“Yeah,” Toth said. “It’s all your old teammates, not all of them, there’s lots of turnover. You just want to show everyone what you’ve been working on, and coming off an injury. I think it’s important that I show them that I haven’t rolled over yet.”

It’s not only Toth, but the UBC Thunderbirds as a team that want to show they haven’t ‘rolled over’. The team that’s won back to back medals at USports nationals is still a serious threat to contend this season. Taking on Alberta is an opportunity to show that UBC is still here, and ready to make noise when it matters most.

UBC Thunderbirds vs Alberta Pandas

Friday, November 24 – 7:00 p.m. at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

Saturday, November 25 – 2:00 p.m. at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre

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