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The UBC Thunderbirds during practice at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre on Wednesday, February 14, 2018.

VANCOUVER, B.C – It’s the most wonderful time of the year for hockey fans, that’s right, it’s playoff time. The puck drops on the Canada West quarterfinal playoffs this weekend. It’s going to be a barn burner between the defending Canada West champion, UBC Thunderbirds and the Mount Royal Cougars. The Thunderbirds just missed out on a first round bye, and as a result they will have to tangle with a hungry Cougars team.

“There won’t be any surprises,” said UBC Coach, Graham Thomas. “We both know each other pretty well, and just saw each other out here. We can never take any team lightly, there a stingy team to get goals on. They’re well coached, hard-nosed, they never quit. There going to come at us, they’re motivated. It’s going to be a good matchup, everybody is tied for first right now.”

UBC won all four regular season games against the Cougars and most recently a pair of games to close out the Thunderbirds home schedule. Three of those games were tightly contested as one-goal victories. The Cougars can hang with the Thunderbirds, but can they come into Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre and win a playoff series?

“If the regular season is any indication it should be a fairly tight series,” said Mount Royal Coach, Scott Rivett. “We expect both teams are going to compete extremely hard, be physical and we are going to have to try and do a good job at minimizing their speed and skill throughout the series. I think both teams have strong goaltending and we suspect that will be at the forefront for both teams this weekend.”

Not only will UBC looking to pick up the pace, but they will also be looking to bust out of a scoring drought. UBC has scored just 9 goals in the previous 7 games. Getting shots on goal, finding ways to create chances, and converting will be imperative if UBC is to have any post-season success.

Thunderbirds leading-scorer, Hannah Clayton-Carroll rippled the net with 12 goals this season. She admits that she’s feeling a bit of pressure to produce when her teams needs her the most.

“Yeah a little bit,” Clayton-Carroll said honestly. “It’s more of a team effort. I kind of just tap it in, but the teams working together and getting the goal as a team. Yeah, hopefully we can do that a couple of more times.”

The USports 5th ranked Thunderbirds will need to put together a solid sixty-minute effort, and possibly overtime as well. Winning the special teams battle, staying out of the box, and firing more pucks on net will make all the difference. Creating those opportunities in the Cougars defensive zone starts with the most common strategy.

“It starts with our break-out,” revealed Coach Thomas. “If we can break-out with more speed, with closer little passes, and support coming up the ice. Also if we’re not getting hemmed in our zone  for extended periods of time. Just getting in front of the goalies eyes, we’ve got to get traffic in front of Zoe (De Beauville). Assuming she’s going to play.”

You might think that Mount Royal comes into this best of three series as the underdog, but you would be mistaken. On any given day, anyone can turn up and win. Sports isn’t played on paper, it’s not decided on a whiteboard, or from a fantasy draft.

The Cougars aren’t afraid of the back-to-back Canada West champions or the silver, and bronze medals UBC won at previous USports Nationals. Mount Royal has fought, and clawed their way into the Canada West playoffs, and they’re coming to make some noise.

“Winning in this league at any time is difficult let alone in the playoffs,” said Coach Rivett “I think the experience we gained last year finely getting the opportunity to play in the post season was huge for us and now just being here isn’t good enough. Learning how to win in Canada West at this time of the year is an important step for our program to take.”

The third-year, Vancouver native and her teammates will be ready to go on Friday afternoon. They’re out to prove that UBC is still a force to be reckoned with. The Thunderbirds and every other USports playoff team in Canada wants to win a gold medal. It all starts in the quarterfinals with a crucial series against a determined Mount Royal team.

“I think we’ve just got to be smart as a team,” Clayton-Carroll said, following practice this week. “Work together, go through our systems, know them well, and make sure that we’re ready to show up Friday, Saturday, and Sunday if needed.”

There is no better atmosphere than playoff hockey. Teams are out to show what they’ve accomplished all season. Playoff hockey separates the contenders from the pretenders,. UBC and Mount Royal are going to bring exciting, fast-paced hockey to The Doug.

 

(3) UBC Thunderbirds vs Mount Royal Cougars (6)

Friday, February 16 – 3:00 p.m. at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

Saturday, February 17 – 3:00 p.m. at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre

Saturday, February 18 – 1:00 p.m. at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre (If Necessary)

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