The UBC Thunderbirds taking in tactics during practice.

The UBC Thunderbirds taking in tactics during practice at Doug Mitchell Thunderbirds Sports Centre.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds will play McGill University in the quarter-final opening round of the CIS National Championship on Thursday, March 17 in Calgary, Alberta at the Markin MacPhail Centre.

This won’t be the first time these teams have matched up this season. On Sunday, September 20 in Kingston, Ontario. UBC scored a trio of unanswered goals via Shiayli Toni, Nicole Saxvik, and Steph Schaupmeyer and skated away with a 3-2 win over then CIS number 1 ranked McGill Martlets Hockey.

Rookie defender Mikayla Ogrodniczuk remembers that game and how big of a win that was for UBC.

“We beat them in our pre-game series. I was in the lineup for that game and for us it was huge,” added Ogrodniczuk. “Knowing that they were ranked number 1 going into that game. It built a lot of confidence for us knowing that we could playing against a team like that.”

Nicole Saxvik had a goal and an assist in that game. She credits that victory as being a huge confidence boost for the Thunderbirds. Taking on McGill this time around will be much more different with a lot at stake and Saxvik is well aware of that.

“You can’t really take much because it was from the very beginning of the year. Every team has changed and adjusted so much. I mean it does give us a little bit of confidence knowing that we can play with all the top teams across the country.”

Sochi 2014 Canadian Olympic Gold Medallist Mélodie Daoust was unavailable during that earlier match against UBC. The fourth year Martlets forward has been scoring goals for fun this season. The 24 year-old compiled 28 goals and 24 assists in 32 games. UBC defenders will have to double team Daoust and not give her any time and space around goalkeeper Danielle Dube.

While Ogrodniczuk and her defensive partner could very well be tasked with marking Daoust. The Vancouver, B.C. native admits a bit of excitement about the prospects of going up against one of the best CIS players in the country.

“Yeah she plays for Team Canada, I mean she’s not bad at all. It’s pretty cool to play against someone like that.”

This won’t be Nicole Saxvik’s first trip to the CIS National Championship. She was part of the UBC Thunderbirds 2012/2013 team that had an early exit from the tournament. Saxvik isn’t too concerned with McGill’s Daoust. As she explains this won’t be the first time UBC has played a Canadian Olympic Gold Medallist with a lot on the line.

“We’ve played against Hayley Wickenheiser when we played the Calgary Dinos in the past three years,” said Saxvik. “We have a very strong team and everyone is capable of checking her. We’ve just got to stick to our system and play our game and I think we’ll be completely fine.”

UBC Thunderbirds forward Nicole Saxvik.

UBC Thunderbirds forward Nicole Saxvik.

As a fourth year veteran Thunderbird, Saxvik and the core leadership group of UBC have taken time to help first year players like Mikayla Ogrodniczuk prepare for what to expect during the CIS Nationals. It’s a quick tournament with eight terrific teams competing to be crowned CIS National Champions.

“I just think that you really have to take in every moment of nationals,” said Saxvik. “It’s a very quick competition, there’s a new format, It’s basically one game elimination knockout. You have to perform well every single game, there’s no second chances. If you want to make it to the national championship you have to win all three games.”

This type of tournament presents all sorts of challenges for every team. Do you rotate goalkeepers, do you play your top players more, or decide to roll all four lines. Can you play aggressive and still stay out of the box and who other than the 7th seeded Calgary Dinos has home ice advantage.

North Vancouver, native Nicole Saxvik finished the season with 4 goals and 7 assists in 28 games for UBC. She knows about the challenges this tournament offers and how important it is to come out flying and quickly build momentum.

“Your playing against the top teams in Canada. Depending on where you get situated, you could be playing three games in three days, depending on where you get seeded and what not, so that kind of becomes a factor. You’re playing against the top teams and every game is going to be a very hard battle.”

McGill finished Quebec RSEQ regular season play with a 13-5-2 record and were swept by the Montreal Carabins in the RSEQ Championship. McGill lost last years CIS National Championship Final to the Western Mustangs 5-0. They will be motivated to reclaim a CIS National Championship they won in 2014.

Mikayla Ogrodniczuk and her UBC Thunderbirds teammates will be ready come Thursday at 3:00 P.M. local time. The winner of UBC vs McGill will take on the winner of Guelph vs St. Thomas on Saturday afternoon. Ogrodniczuk will focus on the first task at hand and that’s beating McGill.

“Getting the first win is probably the most important part of the tournament. It’ll be huge for us.”

UBC Thunderbirds defender Mikayla Ogrodniczuk.

UBC Thunderbirds defender Mikayla Ogrodniczuk.

You can’t win all three games at once so the best way forward is to take it one game at a time as that famous cliché rings out. Ogrodniczuk and UBC will be working hard all week preparing for CIS Nationals.

“I think just being ready for the first game. The second the puck drops we have to be at our best, especially knowing that it’s one game elimination.”

Here is the CIS National Championship Schedule. Mountain Times listed.

Thursday, March 17.

11:00 Quarter-final 1: No. 8 St. Thomas vs. No. 1 Guelph

15:00 Quarter-final 2: No. 5 McGill vs. No. 4 UBC

Friday, March 18.

11:00 Consolation 1: Loser QF 1 vs. Loser QF 2

15:00 Quarter-final 3: No. 6 Western vs. No. 3 Saint Mary’s

19:00 Quarter-final 4: No. 7 Calgary vs. No. 2 Montreal

Saturday, March 19.

10:00 Consolation 2: Loser QF 3 vs. Loser QF 4

14:00 Semifinal 1: Winner QF 1 vs. Winner QF 2

17:30 Semifinal 2: Winner QF 3 vs. Winner QF 4

Sunday March 20.

8:45 Bronze

9:00 5th-place game

12:30 Final

SEEDING

1. Guelph Gryphons (OUA champions: 21-2-1 regular season / 5-1 playoffs)

2. Montreal Carabins (RSEQ champions: 15-3-2 regular season / 4-0 playoffs)

3. Saint Mary’s Huskies (AUS champions: 17-6-1 regular season / 4-2 playoffs)

4. UBC Thunderbirds (CWUAA champions: 16-9-3 regular season / 4-2 playoffs)

5. McGill Martlets (RSEQ finalists: 13-5-2 regular season / 2-2 playoffs)

6. Western Mustangs (OUA finalists: 15-8-1 regular season / 4-2 playoffs)

7. Calgary Dinos (Hosts: 12-12-4 regular season / 0-2 playoffs)

8. St. Thomas Tommies (AUS finalists: 16-7-1 regular season / 5-2 playoffs)

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