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UBC Thunderbirds Coach Graham Thomas (Left) looks on during practice at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre on Wednesday February 8, 2018.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The Alberta Pandas and UBC Thunderbirds will meet this weekend at Clare Drake Arena with a Canada West quarterfinals playoff bye up for grabs. UBC comes into the series sitting second in the conference with (18-8-0) 53 points. Alberta is third with (18-8-0) 52 points. A three-point regulation win by the Thunderbirds will clinch a bye directly to the conference semifinals. The hosts however, they will have other ideas.

UBC and Alberta split a pair of games at the end of November with both teams winning in overtime at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. As both teams prepare to renew acquaintances, UBC Thunderbirds Coach Graham Thomas, and Alberta Pandas Coach Howie Draper, both shared their thoughts on what to expect this weekend in Edmonton.

UBC Thunderbirds fifth-year and graduating senior, Kathleen Cahoon offered her thoughts from a players perspective. A native of the ‘Wild Rose Country’, Cahoon will look to lead by example especially with family and friends in attendance.

How is your team approaching these two games this weekend? 

GT: I think the word that comes to mind is, excitement. I think we’re excited. If we aren’t, we better be. This is just a great opportunity regardless of what happens in the outcome. To have two top programs go at it, it’s neat. Most years, it kind of comes down to the last weekend every year. Whether it’s five vs six battles, or one, two, three, four battles. It’s great for our league, it shows how tight it is, how competitive it is. It’s coming right down to the last weekend. There’s a lot on the line, but we just need to focus on the excitement piece, having fun, and excepting the challenge.

HD: Our approach is the same as it has been in previous weeks. Every week we strive to be more consistent than we were the one before. We have to be more consistent through our next three practices. Hopefully, that will translate into greater consistency this weekend against UBC.

KC: I think the biggest thing is sticking to our systems, and playing a full sixty-minute game. I know we’ve struggled with coming out in our second period. I think this week’s focus, we’ve really been barring down, pushing ourselves, and focusing on the details. I think if we get that under wraps, we’ll be good to go.

Are these both must win games?

GT: As far as points go, as far as regular season goes, it is. I think we want to have that mindset that we need to win all of our games between now and mid-March, when nationals are over If we’re blessed enough to go, and earn that spot. Yeah, from now to until then, it has to be the mindset. We’ve got to make sure we’re bringing our best. For big picture, because these aren’t technically playoff games. I think it is more important that we play sixty-minutes, we compete really hard, show a lot of effort, a lot of heart this weekend, regardless of the outcome.

HD: No, I wouldn’t say that the upcoming games are must wins. We want to win them. With first place out of reach for us, our goal at this point is to finish in second. We’ll do what we can to make that happen. If it doesn’t work out that way for us, then we’ll live to fight another day.

KC:  Yeah, I think every game now, we have a playoff mentality. We’re taking everything like that. Everything is going to be a must win coming down the stretch here.

What can you take away from the two earlier games this season between the teams?

GT: If remember the second night, discipline, staying out of the box is going to be important. We lost in overtime on the penalty kill, so just making sure that we’re staying disciplined in those key, and timely situations, and just having awareness in the game of what’s happening. When we can be aggressive, and when we can’t. Those are some things that we’ve learned since then. It’s not just this matchup, all of our games have been close. We’ve learned how to play in those games, we’ve learned how to not play in those games, and I think we’ve got to make sure that’s forefront as well, those lessons that we’ve learned.

HD: That our teams are well matched. We play two different styles, but when you add up what makes each team unique each team’s ability to produce results is very comparative. Literally, either team could win on any given night. That’s what makes these kinds of series fun.

KC: I think the biggest take away is, we’re two really good teams, hard-working teams, and two teams that have a big rivalry. I think we’re just going to use that to fuel us going forward.

What does your team need to do in order to be successful and get results?

GT: I think we’ve got to shoot the puck more. We’ve got to generate more shots. They’ve always been one of the top defences. They have a really good defensive system, their fast. They’ve got good goaltending, we’ve got to make sure our offence is prepared to take on their defences. Secondly, I would say special teams. It’s not so much them, it’s us. We’ve got to be better, our power play has to be better, our penalty kill has to be better. We’ve been working on that this week. For me, we’ve got to make sure we’re generating offence, keeping the puck, and second, we have to win the special teams battle.

HD: As mentioned previously, we have to be more consistent defensively and offensively than we have been previously. We’re getting to where we need to be, but we’ve got more hill to climb. Last weekend, I felt that we had some mental lapses that hurt us. We need to continue to minimize these lapses this coming weekend. Teams like Saskatchewan and UBC, or any team in our conference for that matter, have weapons that can take advantage of mistakes. Having said that, UBC will be pushing to maximize errors on our part and they do that very well, so the goal will be to ultimately make less than they do. Hopefully, that will be enough.

Are these games a precursor of what to expect in the Canada West playoffs? 

GT: Yeah for sure. I mean you can never predict, and you never want to take anyone lightly. It’ll be playoff intensity, and it will for sure have a look of ‘hey the playoffs are here and making sure everybody is at their best’.

HD: I think this weekend series will be a very good indication of what might be seen in the playoffs. Both teams are getting close to the peak of their development. Both teams want to win one of the two top spots in regular season standings. It will have a very playoff-like feel to it.

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