UBC Thunderbirds Forwards Emily O'Neill (left) and Stephanie Schaupmeyer (right) following practice at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

UBC Thunderbirds Emily O’Neill (left) and Stephanie Schaupmeyer (right) after practice.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Women’s Hockey Team are on the verge of doing something special, something that has never been accomplished in the one-hundred plus years of the programs existence – Finishing atop the Canada West University Athletic Association Conference (CWUAA) is within reach.

The first place Thunderbirds hold all the cards heading into the final week of the regular season. A pair of road games against the Manitoba Bisons will help determine the final standings this weekend.

UBC, with 46 points, will hope to fend off Regina (45 points) and Alberta (44 points). The teams that finish first and second will earn a playoff bye and skip the quarterfinals.

Assistant Captain Stephanie Schaupmeyer knows the importance of finishing first and earning a coveted bye to the semi-finals.

“Since we’ve been here this has been a program of firsts and that’s been a big deal for us and something we strive for,” Schaupmeyer told me. “To break those records to do things that we’ve never done. I think that just pushed us to do good this last weekend and finish in first to reach that goal that we’ve never got before.”

A playoff bye would ensure Coach Graham Thomas and his players some much-needed rest. A potential semifinal matchup would take place at UBC’s Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre February 26 – 28. As playoff excitement builds, Thomas isn’t quite ready to talk about the possibility of playoff games at UBC.

“I think we’re excited about that, but we haven’t really talked about it as a group,” said Thomas. “I think they all kind of know to solidify top four. Is it going to be quarters we’re hosting or is it a bye and hosting semis? That’ll be determined in the last weekend which is how this league’s gone every year.

We’ve got to battle all the way to the last weekend and I think that’s a good thing. We haven’t talked about it too much as a group. We try not to focus on it, just focus on one game at a time.”

After a six-game winning streak in January, the Thunderbirds have slipped up, losing two of three. The Regina Cougars were able to skate away with a 3-2 win over UBC on senior night on Saturday. All teams go through successful stretches and little hiccups over the course of the season. 4th-year forward Emily O’Neill isn’t worried because she knows how close this team is on and off the ice.

“I think we’ve had a great season so far,” O’Neill said. “Like any team normally, we’ve had our ups and downs and some learning experiences. It’s a really good group of girls and we’re having a good time.”

UBC Thunderbirds Assistant Coach Dom Di Rocco and forward Emily O'Neill have a chat during practice.

UBC Thunderbirds Assistant Coach Dom Di Rocco and forward Emily O’Neill during practice.

The team will depart for Winnipeg tomorrow. Putting in a pair of solid 60 minute efforts against the Bisons could go a long way in securing a positive playoff future. In any sport, consistency provides a strong recipe for success.

Schaupmeyer rippled the net for her 4th goal of the season on Friday in a 3-0 win over Regina. She will be looking for consistency and more goals this weekend.

“I think for sure consistency,” Schaupmeyer highlighted as the key for UBC. “For us that doesn’t just happen on Friday and Saturday nights. I think the consistency starts Monday morning at practice.

I think that’s something we’ve got to be a little bit better at. Staying consistent all week and not taking any team lightly, because in our league any team can win any night, but that’s what makes it fun.”

The positive results that have contributed to a 16-8-2 record this season can be placed on how the team trains and prepares for games. Practices are held Monday to Thursday. Off ice work is just as important as working on the power play and penalty killing.

The Thunderbirds latest goal-scorer, Logan Boyd added her 8th goal of the season with a sick top corner deflection vs Regina on Saturday. Boyd has an idea why the team’s fitness has shown to be in peak form at the most crucial time of the season.

“We really focused on our cardio and fitness this season so it’s really going to pay off this final weekend here,” Boyd feels. “Hopefully we can push through and get our first place finish.”

It would mean a lot for the Waterdown, Ontario native and her teammates to lock up a playoff bye and secure a home playoff series in Vancouver. Having the ability to sleep in your own bed and not having to travel for a road playoff series could provide that extra little edge the UBC Thunderbirds need.

“It would be great to get the home ice advantage for the first round and possibly all the way through,” Boyd added. “And really nice to get the rest and extra practice time in.”

UBC will be on the other foot come Saturday afternoon when puck drop is scheduled for 11:00 a.m PT. Getting a good nights sleep in frigid Winnipeg and adjusting players body clocks won’t be an easy task.  Iphone alarms will be set and the fascinating Winnipeg night-life will be absent of UBC Thunderbirds.

UBC Thunderbirds forward Stephanie Schaupmeyer (right) gets ready for a faceoff against the Regina Cougars on Saturday, February 6.

UBC Thunderbirds forward Stephanie Schaupmeyer (right) gets ready for a faceoff.

Edmonton Oilers fan Stephanie Schaupmeyer will be looking to pull out some Connor McDavid like tricks of her own against the 5th place Bisons. While UBC is in the playoffs, Manitoba is in a battle to qualify.

“We’ve got a playoff spot, but why stop there? Schaupmeyer stated, “And why settle for that when first is on the line? That’s something we want and we’re going to push for it.”

If you are not familiar with the UBC Women’s Hockey Team, now is a great time to start following the team. The CWHL and NWHL are making massive progress in a non Olympic year. The UBC Thunderbirds are a close-knit team, working together each and every day to become better.

A November, 2015 video featuring UBC Thunderbirds players created some buzz and added a spotlight to the team and sport. Individuals who aren’t familiar with women’s hockey sometimes assume and ask dumb questions. The video titled ‘Stupid Questions Female Hockey Players Are Asked’ showed just how absurd some of the treatment and questions can be directed to women hockey players.

Emily O’Neill noted how positive the support and reaction was from the video. It brought the team closer together and helped form a bond between players.

“I’d say we’re really close,” O’Neill added. “It’s one of the closest teams I’ve been on for sure, which obviously sort of happens when you spend so much time together. Obviously by the video you can tell we have lots of chemistry, and we joke around and have lots of fun.”

Anyone who is playing hockey clearly loves hockey and that’s the same notion no matter female or male. The end goal is to put the puck in the back of the oppositions net, stay out of the box, and play a fun, clean game.

Schaupmeyer and the UBC Women’s Hockey Team are doing just that. The playoffs are right around the corner and there is a lot more hockey left to play and much more to be decided.

“We’re playing for the same reasons that the boys are,” Schaupmeyer stated. “We just love playing hockey and I think that shows through the same in the physicality, the flow and the skill of the game. We love hockey just the same.”

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