UBC Thunderbirds forward, Nicole Saxvik. (Rich Lam/UBC Athletics Photo)

UBC Thunderbirds forward, Nicole Saxvik. (Rich Lam/UBC Athletics Photo)

VANCOUVER, B.C – The top two teams in Canada West will take to the ice tonight in what will be a fierce battle between the UBC Thunderbirds and the Manitoba Bisons. The visitors lead the conference with a 6-0-0 record, an astonishing 24 goals scored, and a mind-boggling 4 goals against. If you include preseason games, the Bisons have run the table with an impressive 17-0-0 record.

UBC has five wins and one loss to start the season, and the top two point producers in Canada West. Nicole Saxvik and Cassandra Vilgrain have both amassed 3 goals and 7 assists this season. Not to be outdone, Manitoba has seven scorers in the top ten. UBC is ranked number one in the USports rankings, while Manitoba comes in ranked seven.

Do the Bisons feel slighted by the USports rankings? Manitoba Bisons Coach, Jon Rempel weighs in.

“We have a healthy respect for UBC and their program as they have become a real force in Canada West in the last five years. My team and I pay little attention to rankings and aside from a few minor adjustments we try not to change the way we prepare for any team we are playing as we also respect every team in our conference. I believe both teams understand that this weekend is an early test for both programs to see where their level of play is at and I know we will use it as a tool to keep getting better.”

UBC Thunderbirds Coach, Graham Thomas believes that the Bisons will be ready to go from the opening puck drop. There is a mutual respect between both teams, but at the end of the day, both teams want to win. UBC would like nothing more than to end the Bisons undefeated streak, and whether they want to admit it or not (they do not), the Bisons will want to run UBC out of the barn. Especially after the Thunderbirds defeated the Bisons to win the 2016 Canada West Finals.

“Absolutely, I agree with you,” said Coach Thomas regarding the Bisons feeling slighted. “I think Manitoba’s going to be fired up. They’re already fired up coming into this rink knowing how their season ended last year. Yeah, it may give them more fuel to the fire. It’s something that we’ve got to be aware of. We’ve just got to stick to our game plan, play smart, and match the intensity, and I think we’ll be fine. Either way, it’s going to be great games. They’re a great team, they moved up to number seven. I anticipate them being in the top four in the country all year as well. I think they’re a very good team. I don’t think they’ve lost all year, even in exhibition. They’ve added some good pieces, plus they didn’t really lose too many players at all. It’s going to be a great test for us, we’re looking forward to it.”

UBC will be counting on the number one line of Nicole Saxvik, Logan Boyd, and Cassandra Vilgrain to ripple the net vs Manitoba. Saxvik has been a consistent scorer for UBC in her 5th season of eligibility. The North Vancouver, native, is on pace to match or surpass her previous season high in points. Saxvik isn’t about to take all the credit for her early success, it’s team work that’s helped the UBC offense.

“I just think it’s an overall team effort,” said Saxvik. “Our whole team is contributing everywhere and I have line-mates that are making it really easy to play with. I think there’s some kind of unspoken chemistry there. We’re finding each other, we know where to be, when to be, at the right time.”

Saxvik’s offensive outburst has been a long work in progress. Coach Thomas has been working with Saxvik to better her production in the opponent’s end of the ice. Playing with players like Vilgrain and Boyd has helped each player on that line become better. It’s early in the season, but this could clearly be a top line that could carry UBC throughout the lengthy Canada West season.

“I think she’s number one in the entire Canada West,” an unsure Coach Thomas admitted. “It’s great to see her do that. It’s something that we’ve been talking about for the last couple of years, her productions been a little bit slower or not where she feels it could be. It’s great to see that she’s finding some chemistry. I know she gives a lot of credit to her line-mates. She’s finding chemistry with (Cassandra) Vilgrain and (Logan) Boyd. She’s getting some success for sure, and it’s nice to see for her. She works hard, is a talented player, very modest, and a humble person. We’re happy for her, she’s doing a great job.”

If the Bisons are going to continue the hot streak they’re on, a strong defensive front will have to be on display. UBC and Manitoba can both pile up the goals. Whichever goalkeeper can make the saves and see her team stay out of the box will come out on top. Saxvik knows that it’s all about sticking to the systems.

“Obviously they’re going to come in real hard. We beat them in the Canada West Finals last year, they have a lot to prove. We’ve just got to stick to our systems, play our game, and I think we’ll be good.”

UBC Thunderbirds vs Manitoba Bisons 

Friday, October 28, 2016

7:00 p.m.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

2:00 p.m.

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