VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds are flying through Canada West competition with a 20-3-1 record as they inch closer to making history. UBC is four points shy of locking up a first place finish in conference play, and thus earning a bye straight to the Canada West semifinals. A spot at USports Nationals in Kingston, Ontario would go through Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Center where Coach Graham Thomas and his players are 13-2-0.
The injury ravaged Thunderbirds have four games left as they’ve been stricken by a massive injury bug. They finished Friday’s 1-0 victory over Lethbridge with nine forwards on the bench. The next afternoon, they defeated Lethbridge 3-0, with only sixteen available skaters. Whether it’s concussions, necks, wrists, groins, knees, groins, or feet, the Thunderbirds have been in the infirmary all season.
How much of a goal is it to secure first place in Canada West?
“Absolutely, it’s a goal in so many areas,” said Thomas. “We (would) set history, and try and lock down first place for the first time ever in this program. Also, what that gives us is home ice advantage, it gives us a bye, and that is crucial for us. Some bodies we might get back, some bodies we could be losing, we’re not sure yet. That bye is going to be crucial for us, we’ve got to keep our focus on that and keep pushing.”
Cassandra Vilgrain and her teammates will travel to Regina this week to take on the Cougars on Friday, and Saturday evening. Earlier this season, UBC defeated the Cougars, 4-1, and 3-2 in Vancouver. It’s not out of the question to think that UBC could take maximum points while putting the Cougars back in hibernation. Vilgrain’s 5 goals and 17 assists have been a welcomed scoring punch, and she knows that history will be there for the taking in Regina.
“We definitely think about it,” admitted Vilgrain. “We’re not so much focused on the history of things that like the fact that we haven’t been there before. (It’s) just keeping our spot, keeping winning games. We want to keep our number one spot, so it’s definitely something we think about.”
The Thunderbirds will be facing a tough challenge within their own locker room, finding enough healthy players to compete will be a process. Players have been asked to fill in and play out of position. Shiayli Toni had to play defence vs Lethbridge. The second year forward did quite well, and looked terrific breaking up a dangerous Pronghorns two on one opportunity. Coach Thomas couldn’t be more made up by his teams recent performances.
“We’re down to nine forwards in the game,” said Thomas. “We’ve got six D (defence) Toni’s playing D (defence) for the first time back there. We’re filling in holes in places, and roles wherever. They’re playing with line combos they haven’t played with, and just rolling out there. We had three centres out there sometimes. I’m just really proud.”
Defence has been a strong point for the Thunderbirds this season, the team is allowing 1.6 goals per game, and striking fear in opposition goalies by scoring 3 goals per game. Fifth year defender, Katie Zinn, scored the game-winning-goal on Friday. Zinny, as she’s affectionately known by her teammates, has a one step at a time approach down the stretch.
“It would mean a lot,” said Zinn, when asked about securing a first place bye. “It would be the first time in history, but we try and just focus on our day-to-day, rather than focus on the goal at hand. It’s been working for us so far, so we’ll probably stick to that game plan.”
With the flu bug going around, ice packs at the ready, and the odd crutches, the UBC Thunderbirds are a focused and determined team. Most teams would wilt under a lengthy injury list, fatigue, and juggled lines, but not the UBC Thunderbirds. They have history to make, and you just know they’ll find a way to lock up first place.
Notes: UBC closes out the regular season vs Mount Royal University on February 10 and 11 at The Doug.