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The UBC Thunderbirds hard at work preparing to take on the Manitoba Bisons this weekend in Winnipeg.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The first half of the Canada West season is about to come to an end this weekend, but not before a massive matchup between the UBC Thunderbirds and Manitoba Bisons on Friday, and Saturday in Winnipeg. The 11-3-0 Canada West leaders are on a nine-game winning streak as they host 9-5-0 UBC.

Manitoba, Alberta, and UBC have dominated the USports rankings this season, but it’s the Bisons who are slotted 4th, with Alberta 1st, and UBC 2nd. The Bisons nine-game winning streak is a fantastic first half achievement. It could be a sign of bigger things to come, so what’s been the key to their success?

“Probably biggest factor is confidence knowing we can be successful in tight low scoring games or in games that open up more. We are also getting contributions from a lot of different people,” Coach Jon Rempel said.

At the other end of the rink, UBC Coach Graham Thomas is preparing his team to navigate a few obstacles as they head out on the road to wrangle up some Bisons.

“It’s going to be real tough,” Thomas admitted. “It looks like they’ve got a full healthy lineup too. They’re 9 – 0 in their last nine so they’re going to be playing really well. There always hard to play in their barn. There’s definitely going to be a lot of adversity, challenges. We’re traveling, time change, the rink. Those challenges are going to be there for us. It’s going to be a big physical, and mental challenge for us. We’ve got to pull through. It’s going to be a tight series.”

It’s going to be a home-coming of sorts for several Thunderbirds. Madison Patrick, Jaedon Cooke, Tory Micklash, Kenzie Robinson, and Karlee Mazor all hail from “Friendly Manitoba.” Mazor, in her first season with UBC will have a large contingent of supporters at Wayne Fleming Arena.

“I’m super excited just to play in front of my friends, and family,” an excited Mazor said. “My parents, grandparents, all my family, hairdresser, they’re all coming.”

While both teams will want to end the first half on a positive note, UBC is looking at the bigger picture. The Thunderbirds want to continue to trust the process by skating, and putting together a pair of solid sixty-minute games. If they can earn results that would be great, but it’s all down to the process.

“I think the process is more important,” revealed Thomas. “We’re building on what we want to see as a staff, and as with the players. More importantly, I think the biggest goal for us this weekend, is competing hard, and finishing strong together, and getting some momentum. Obviously getting the sweep or getting two wins, is the best way to do that. We also want to be realistic, and know that they’re going to be tough, and intense games.”

Having watched Alberta and UBC both bring home medals from USports nationals last spring, you might think that Manitoba are on a mission to prove that they can beat Alberta, and UBC. That’s simply not the case, the Bisons are solely focused on themselves, and what they can control.

“We only have to keep proving to ourselves that we are a good solid team and keep improving.” Rempel said. 

A former St. Mary’s Academy player, Mazor knows that it’s going to take a complete UBC team effort against Manitoba. Playing smart, but physical hockey means staying out of the box, and capitalizing on special teams. Mazor is expecting to see a similar series after the teams split the season opening matchup. A 5-4 win for Manitoba, and a 4-1 UBC win.

“I think they’re going to be a super tough team, very aggressive,” Mazor said. “Last time we played them, they were very aggressive, hard on the puck, big bodies. so I think we just need to match that.”

UBC and Manitoba are going to be competing neck and neck in the standings, and rankings this season. This series could be an appetizer for a potential playoff showdown in February, and both teams will want positive results to look back on.

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