UBC Thunderbirds, Kathleen Cahoon (Left), Alexa Ranahan (Centre), and Cassandra Vilgrain (Right), following practice on Wednesday, January 31, 2018.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds will close out the home portion of their Canada West schedule with seniors night on Saturday afternoon vs Mount Royal University. There won’t be any bingo, or Antiques Roadshow marathon. UBC’s Kirsten Toth, Kathleen Cahoon, Cassandra Vilgrain, and Alexa Ranahan will be honoured prior to the 2:00 p.m. puck drop at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

The ‘Fab Four’ have meant a lot to the Thunderbirds program over the years. They’ve each given back, improved, and helped UBC become the hockey program that it is today.

“It’s been a second family,” Cahoon admitted. “It’s a home away from home. It’s kind of my escape every time I come to the rink, it’s my favourite time of the day. All the girls, and friendships that I’ve developed, they’re going to last a lifetime. It’s been a huge part of my life.”

The Calgary, Alberta native, has seen a massive transformation since committing to play for UBC. The program that was once known for losing has built a winning model that’s gained respect, and recognition. Cahoon is so much a part of the Thunderbirds identity, that she committed to the team before Coach Graham Thomas had officially signed on the dotted line to coach.

“She’s the first recruit that I recruited that’s graduating all the way through,” Thomas said, proudly. “That’s kind of neat for me and her. She was the first one to help change the program around. It was before I even saw the team, and got the job. It’s kind of sad, it brings you back to a lot of times, emotions, and memories. She’s always brought a lot of commitment, hard work, and effort. She’s been a really good leader, and a teammate. She exudes what a Thunderbird means. She’s been through a lot with this program, and she gives a lot.”

A lot of athletes don’t always feel comfortable in the first university they have decided to play for. Toth, Vilgrain, and Ranahan all transferred to UBC after previously playing hockey at other schools. Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery and a fresh start.

Vilgrain was looking to rejuvenate her passion for playing hockey. Now in her second season with UBC, she’s fit in great, and is back enjoying Canada’s favourite past-time. Being able to find a positive place to play hockey, and want to play hockey, has meant the world.

“I see it as a second chance to find my love for hockey again,” Vilgrain beamed. “That’s something that Graham, the coaches, and the girls have given to me. I got to come here, develop as a hockey player, and as a person, better than I would have in my other situation. I’m very grateful for that.”

If your players aren’t excited about coming to the rink, and stepping onto the ice, you’ve not got a succesful team. Teammates feed off of each other’s energy, and commitment. Having Vilgrain loving hockey, and thrilled to score a double overtime penalty shot winner against a heated rival, that’s when you know that you’ve helped, and it’s working out.

“Yeah, when you hear things like that,” said Thomas, upon hearing Vilgrain’s comments. “When a player comes in who is a highly touted recruit… I tried to get her at Syracuse when I was there not knowing, small world, we’d end up back here together. To see a player like that kind of lose the passion for the game, and could have just slugged it out for one more year at UNH (University of New Hampshire) and graduated, not enjoying that. I think that’s a real compliment to our program, team, and coaching staff. A player like that can come back and find her love for the game again, that’s pretty special. It’s been awesome to watch her enjoy it, and love coming to the rink again.”

Also in her second season with UBC, it’s been a similar journey for Ranahan. After transferring from The Ohio State University, Ranahan has found a home with the Thunderbirds. However, you might have been hard-pressed to find her on the ice as she’s usually in the penalty box or in the trainers room covered in ice packs.

If you’re looking for a defender that sticks up for her teammates, isn’t afraid to mix things up in the corners, block a shot, or put her own body on the line, that’s Alexa Ranahan.

“Ranahan is probably the toughest player I’ve coached, male or female,” Thomas revealed. “Last year she played through three injuries, fractured femur, a torn labrum. She’ll battle through anything, she’s so tough and plays a tough game.”

UBC’s 2017 Canada West championship, and bronze medal at USports Nationals was in part because everyone found a role and chipped in. The Thunderbirds played compact, and together as a team. Having Ranahan on the ice creates space and comfort zone for a Cahoon and Vilgrain to freelance, and generate scoring opportunities.

“My favourite moment was winning Canada West,” said Vilgrain. “It was probably the first time I’ve won anything, and also won something with a group of people that I love. Being able to do that together, meant more than the actual championship.”

“I’d have to say last year in playoffs, it was pretty exciting,” said Ranahan, when asked about her favourite moment. “We had a really good run, and we won Canada West, and that was a lot of fun.”

Everyone loves fun, and how much fun would it be for the Thunderbirds and graduating seniors to win another USports National medal, only this time, the one that’s eluded them. It would certainly end on the highest of notes, and solidify UBC as the top program.

“Finishing with a national championship is obviously the end goal,” Cahoon said. “To do it in your senior year is obviously pretty rewarding. I know that we’re on track for that, and we’re working hard.”

“Obviously it means a lot,” said Ranahan. “I think anybody wants that for their last year. I know with this group, we’ll give it our best shot.”

“Yeah, it is the last crack,” Vilgrain answered. “We want to see every single year as an opportunity to win for the program, and for future teams. We want to win of course, but we also want to make sure that we’re doing every single thing to make sure that we have no regrets at the end of the season.”

The 16-8-0 UBC Thunderbirds will be hunting cougars this weekend as they honour four outstanding seniors and try to secure a Canada West quarterfinals bye. There is a lot at stake, and plenty more to come. The next chapter is only just beginning.

UBC Thunderbirds vs Mount Royal University Cougars 

Friday, February  2 – 7:00 p.m. at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

Saturday, February 3 – 2:00 p.m. at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.


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