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The UBC Thunderbirds following practice on Tuesday, January 16 in Vancouver, B.C. 

VANCOUVER, B.C – The fourth annual UBC Thunderbirds Winter Classic will take place on Friday night at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. The UBC men’s hockey team will host the Lethbridge Pronghorns. Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m. and $5 tickets can be purchased at the door.

The UBC Winter Classic is a fantastic event that brings the community, campus, and fans together. It’s a great opportunity to pack ‘The Doug’ and create a tremendous playing atmosphere for athletes on both teams. A spirited crowd of 5,500 spectators is expected.

While the Winter Classic is a spotlight event for the UBC men’s hockey program, there has yet to be a Winter Classic game for the UBC women’s hockey program. There have been preliminary discussions about a possible doubleheader event in the future.

“We’ve got some plans in the works with the department on trying to do some festivals or event next year,” Coach Graham Thomas said, earlier this week. “The winter classic has been a tremendous success. I know that Calgary, Mount Royal have done a men’s and a women’s doubleheader at the Saddledome. The universities get behind it, and they pack it.”

The sixth annual Crowchild Classic features the University of Calgary vs Mount Royal University in a series of varsity sports including hockey, basketball, soccer, and volleyball. On the ice, Calgary and Mount Royal will battle at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday, January 25. Previous editions have drawn crowds of 3,000 – 5,000 for women’s hockey, and 8,000 – 12,000 for men’s hockey.

“The challenge right now,” explained, Coach Thomas, “We did sit down with our events people, and we’re trying with the men to set up and doubleheader for next year. Whether that becomes a Winter Classic or not, that’s out of my pay grade. We still want to do something. The men are wanting to do something, different and exciting around that.”

Hosting a potential joint doubleheader down the line would be a logistical obstacle. UBC is the furthest from any Canada West university. It would be challenging to have both a women’s and a men’s program travel to Vancouver to compete in a potential Winter Classic on opposition ice, with fans cheering against you.

What about the men’s hockey program? Is sharing a Winter Classic with their neighbours down the hall something that would be of interest? Having a marquee event is special, if a doubleheader came to fruition, would the men’s team support it?

“Yeah, that’d be fun,” said Coach Sven Butenschön. “Graham and I have talked a lot about getting a doubleheader going. It would be a really great experience for everybody. It would be really neat.”

Captain, and 5th year defender, Wes Vannieuwenhuizen has watched the women’s team and knows what they’re all about. He, like his coach would be all for a women’s Winter Classic.

“I think that would be great.” Vannieuwenhuizen said. “I think the women’s team deserves a lot of recognition. It would be great for them to be a part of the Winter Classic. I think all the guys would really enjoy that.”

Having the chance to lace up your skates, and play in front of a sold out crowd is an amazing opportunity. Thunderbirds forward, Kathleen Cahoon was at the 2017 UBC Winter Classic. She saw firsthand how terrific, and exciting it was.

Canada West Ice Hockey (CIS): Women -  UBC Thunderbirds host Regina

UBC Thunderbirds forward Kathleen Cahoon. Photo Credit: Rich Lam, UBC Athletics.

“I would love to see one,” said Cahoon. “I actually got to see the men’s one last year, because I was out with injury. It was really exciting and everything. It would be nice to see that kind of hype, and promotion coming up for the women’s side as well. I think any women’s team on campus deserves it. We’ve all proven that we’re all good teams. I think equal support is definitely something we should strive for.”

If success and achievements count for something, the women’s program has consistently been ranked among the top hockey programs in USports. The women’s team has won back to back Canada West Championships, and made a pair of trips to USports Nationals. They won bronze in 2017, and silver in 2016. Having a Winter Classic would promote the team to a never before seen level, and provide more awareness for the sport.

“I think it would definitely validate the program for the school,” Kirsten Toth said. “When you talk to people who don’t have a strong sports background. I think they don’t really even realize that there’s a women’s hockey team on campus, and if they do, they don’t realize the success we’ve had over the last five years.”

UBC does promote women’s sports. There are events, and opportunities for fans on campus to attend all sorts of activities over the course of the year. When it comes to women’s hockey specifically, there has never been a specific event organized, marketed, and planned to shine a light on the women’s hockey team.

What would it feel like to have the stands packed for a Winter Classic game?

“It would be a phenomenal feeling,” said Toth. “A feeling that a lot of these girls on the team, probably haven’t experienced before. I know I sure haven’t experienced a packed arena this size. Part of the reason why I haven’t experienced it, and we as a team haven’t experienced it. It’s because something like that’s never been organized for us. Our games are promoted minuscule compared to the other teams on campus. It’s something that we’re working towards bettering for our program in the future.”

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UBC Thunderbirds defender Kirsten Toth during practice.

Why is there no Winter Classic for the UBC women’s hockey team?

Toth shares her take.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the risk factor involved and kind of the ideas that are stereotypes surrounding women’s hockey, that we can’t get people in the seats. I think if athletics was to put the time, energy, and resources into planning a women’s winter classic, and it didn’t turn out. I think that they’d be shooting themselves in the foot for it. It’s never been attempted before. From my first year, and I’m now in my sixth year, I’ve seen tremendous growth in terms of getting people in the seats, and support for the teams.”

Finding a way to keep fans engaged and entertained throughout the course of two hockey games could be tricky. That’s where beer comes in. The Ryerson Rams lowered beer prices during their version of their Winter Classic.

Gilles Lepine, Senior Athletics Director of UBC Athletics, wants to create a memorable and special event that creates buzz, and gets people excited on campus. The Winter Classic is thought as the winter, UBC Homecoming event.

Would Lepine like to see a women’s Winter Classic at some point down the line?

“That’s definitely a possibility, but right now, we’re not there. We’re just trying to finalize this one.” Lepine said.

Everyone knows that football is the bread and butter university sport, but hockey is Canada’s most beloved and favourite pastime. Hockey is number one, and it puts people in seats.

“I think you’ve got a point there, I think you’ve got a point,” Lepine agreed. “Hockey definitely, because it’s a national Canadian sport, people love the sport, but it’s difficult to bring those people in every game. Definitely, that’s our challenge. If they come, have fun, next time they will come again, and maybe we can have more than one Winter Classic.”

UBC knows how to put on one outstanding Winter Classic, and they’ve done a great job. No challenge is ever easy, that’s why it’s a challenge. It’s 2018, and it’s time to reach for new heights. The UBC women’s hockey program should be in the next Winter Classic.

 

 

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