VANCOUVER, B.C – The CIS Hockey season is right around the corner and teams from across Canada are gearing up for pre-season games and the start of hockey season from coast to coast. The UBC Thunderbirds will be looking to recapture the excitement that helped them win silver at the CIS National Championship last March.
The Thunderbirds will be hosting an East vs West pre-season showcase at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre Arena this weekend. McGill University, Western University, and the University of Calgary all competed with UBC at nationals. They are also joined at the showcase by Mount Royal University and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). Each team will play three games from September 16 – 18.
UBC Thunderbirds winger Emily O’Neill will be entering her fifth year of eligibility this season and the Oakville, Ontario native can’t wait to get back on the ice against some unfamiliar opponents.
“Yeah, I think we’re all looking forward to it,” said O’Neill. “It will be a challenge, definitely. It’s always exciting to play the teams that we don’t normally get to play during our regular season. I think it just adds to it, will be fired up and excited for the challenge. It should be good.”
The most intriguing games will feature UBC, McGill, Calgary, and Western. UBC eliminated McGill during CIS Nationals and Calgary knocked out 2015 CIS National Champions, Western. The Thunderbirds will open up vs McGill on Friday night and then take on the Mustangs on Saturday afternoon. Calgary will have to wait until Sunday morning to fend off any offensive Western front.
UBC forward, Kathleen Cahoon scored a pair of goals and added two helpers during nationals. When the Thunderbirds and Marlets take to the ice, she’s certain there will be some added left over intensity.
“I think it’s going to be a good showcase for both sides,” admitted Cahoon. “I know there’s a little bad blood between us and McGill, but I think it’s going to be great. I think it’s going to really show how our team is clicking right now, how there’s is. It’s just going to be a great battle and I’m excited to see it.”
McGill comes into this showcase without leading goal-scorers Mélodie Daoust and Gabrielle Davidson. Together they lit up opponents with 50 goals and 41 assists last season. Cahoon knows how important they are to McGill, however, she doesn’t plan to take the Martlets lightly without their dynamic duo.
“Even with those two big players not being there, I know that they’re definitely going to come after us in full force. We can’t expect nothing less, we can’t take them easy even though they don’t have those players. Everyone’s going to be one hundred percent in that game.”
McGill Coach, Peter Smith wasn’t about to add to the budding rivalry between UBC and McGill. Nationals was last spring, and now both teams will want to start building for the upcoming season. Smith, who will be entering his 17th season as the Marlets bench boss, is hoping to see how his young team develops.
“We are looking forward to the tournament,” said Smith. “It is the first time we will be playing in B.C. We have a very young team. The chance to play three pre-season games against opponents we do not see very often will be an excellent development opportunity for our group.”
His UBC counterpart will be taking this showcase with the same approach. Younger players will get a chance to earn valuable playing time against top teams. Veterans will be looking to pick up where they left off. Coach Graham Thomas will be looking to his players to shake off any lingering summer cobwebs.
“It’s just a great opportunity,” said Thomas. “We’re lucky enough to have some really good teams coming out. We’ve got some good re-matches from nationals going on, whether it’s Calgary vs Western, or us (UBC) vs McGill. We know that we’re bringing four teams that were just at nationals back out here to get us ready. Kick off some rust, elevate some players, and figure out our own team. This is for all teams I’m sure, to figure out what we all have, and what we’re all working with this year. We’re really excited about the competition that we’ve got coming out here.”
McGill first year player, Jade Downie is one of the top young players to watch in the showcase. The 20 year-old forward was part of Hockey Canada’s 2016 summer development team. She scored a goal and an assist in a three games series vs the United States. Coach Thomas is already preparing his defenders.
“They’ve got a new incoming player, Landry (Jade Downie-Landry). She was at the team Canada development camp, and she’s a really good player. They’re (McGill) always solid, and always going to be a top team. I’m sure they’re obviously going to be fired up to play us and get us into all that kind of stuff after the whistle.”
The Thunderbirds head into this campaign as a team that others will be looking to test themselves against. It will be tougher to roll train over the competition. Taking on McGill and Western back to back will be a terrific way to see how UBC looks before the season starts on October 7 vs Saskatchewan.
“I think we’ve probably got a bit of a target on our backs,” revealed O’Neill. “I think it will elevate people’s game when they come to play us, just knowing our past success. It really doesn’t change the way that we play. We still have the mentality to focus on the process and control what we can control.”
East vs West Showcase Schedule
Friday, September 16, 2016
3 p.m. — Calgary vs. NAIT
5:30 p.m. — Mt. Royal vs. Western
8 p.m. — UBC vs. McGill
Saturday, September 17, 2016
10:30 a.m. — Mt. Royal vs. NAIT
1 p.m. — McGill vs. Calgary
3:30 p.m. — Western vs. UBC
Sunday, September 18, 2016
8 a.m. — Calgary vs. Western
11 a.m. — NAIT vs. UBC
1 p.m. — McGill vs. Mt. Royal (Father Bauer Arena)
All times Pacific