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The UBC Thunderbirds at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, Photo: Har Journalist

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds are off the Canada West semi-finals after a convincing sweep of the Regina Cougars in the quarter-finals. UBC came out flying and thrashed the Cougars 5-0 and 5-1 at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. USports no.9 ranked UBC will face no.3 ranked Manitoba in the best of three series starting on Friday.

The Thunderbirds will face their stiffest opponent this season. Manitoba is the reigning 2018 Canada West, and USports national champion. The old adage rings true, To Be The Best You Have to Beat The Best.’ UBC is looking for their third trip to USports nationals in the past four campaigns. All they have to do is beat Manitoba twice at Wayne Fleming Arena.

“It’s going to be like a national calibre final,” Coach Graham Thomas told Har Journalist while eating lunch earlier this week. “They’re a top ranked team, and they have been all year. Canada West defending champions and national defending champions. They have a large senior class, they’re a veteran team. They’ve been there before, and we’ve got to know that going in. They’re experienced and a confident group.”

An experienced team is a huge x-factor in any playoff series, Manitoba knows what it takes to be a champion. UBC is coming in hungry, they want to be where Manitoba was last year. The Thunderbirds are locked in and preparing for a monumental battle.

“We’re really excited just to be taking it one day at a time,” Toronto native, Amelia Boughn explained. “That’s kind of the mindset we’ve had the whole season. Not looking at the bigger picture, but just focusing on what we have to do each day.”

UBC was able to skate circles vs Regina, that won’t be the case in Manitoba. The Cougars didn’t put up much of a fight. The Thunderbirds and Bisons split the season series, UBC earned a point in every game with a 2-0-2 record. Three of four games went to overtime, and two went to a shootout, with each team winning in hostile territory.

“I think we prepare the same way as always,” Mathea Fischer said. “We’re prepared for a big battle, and they’re obviously not going to be a big blowout. We prepare the same way, and trust the process. Big opponent, and they’re going to come at us hard, we’re going to expect that.”

The Thunderbirds are clicking at exactly the right time. They’re getting depth scoring from all four lines. Fischer was named Canada West women’s first star of the week. The line of Brie Bellerive, Fischer, and Hannah Clayton-Carroll lit the lamp with 4 goals, and 7 assists vs Regina.

“The whole team has been playing really well these past couple of weeks,” Fischer said, downplaying her hot streak. “I think we’re on a roll right now. Obviously playing with great line-mates, we just want to keep that going, and try to create as much offence as we can, as a team. Every line has been producing. That’s the strength of our team, just the depth that we have.”

If the Thunderbirds are going to topple the Bisons, they’re going to have to continue to stick to what’s got them where they are. Solid sixty-minute hockey, strong special teams, brilliant goaltending, and timely goals. It would also help to stay out of the penalty box.

While the Canada West no.2 ranked Bisons are coming off a bye week. UBC has momentum, and that’s something you can’t just pick up off a shelf. UBC is a positive, prepared team, that’s ready for the next challenge, and the Bisons present the top challenge in USports.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence in our group, especially in the last half of the season,” Thomas echoed. “Minus a few games, we’ve been lights out in the second half. We’ve drawn a lot of confidence from that. Our power play has been great, our special teams have been great. Players that haven’t scored for a while, are scoring.”

“It’s good for us right now, we’re hitting a peak at the right time. We just want to keep going and keep getting better.”

UBC’s six graduating seniors would love an opporunity to go to USports nationals in Prince Edward Island to play for a national championship, next month. As a fifth-year goalie, Boughn isn’t ready to call it a day.

“I think it would be a lot of fun,” Boughn described what a trip to USports nationals would mean. “I just love this group, and I love spending time with this group. To be able to go to P.E.I, it’d be a great experience and a great opportunity for all of us. We’re really focused on the day-to-day. If we take care of the day-to-day, the rest will take care of itself.”

Not only is UBC hungry for wins, but there’s also an appetite for food. Every hockey player loves a good post-game chow down, and Boughn is no different. She is hopeful UBC has a lot more post-game meals left.

“You know, I like a good steak, that’s always good,” Boughn said. “Maybe some Bison burgers. Honestly, after the game, I like steak or rice, not too picky. Whatever they give us on the road, and sometimes the occasional smoothie.” 

UBC’s road to the 2019 USports Women’s Hockey Championship, March 14 – 17 in P.E.I will have to go through the Manitoba Bisons. The puck drops on Friday, and both teams know what’s at steak.

 

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The UBC Thunderbirds on Tuesday, February 12, 2019 – Photo: Har Journalist 

 

MLB: Washington Nationals at Toronto Blue Jays

VANCOUVER, B.C – As North America looks to shake off the effects of the most recent polar vortex, the boys of summer are gearing up for the start of spring training camp later this month. Thaw out the baseballs, because baseball season is less than two months away.

It’s been a quiet off-season for several MLB teams. The Toronto Blue Jays have yet to make a major splash into the free agent market, but don’t count them out yet.

Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have yet to find a new home. Harper and Machado may have commanded the most off-season attention, and rumours, but neither player has put pen to paper. The White Sox, Phillies, Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Padres have all been linked at one point or another to either, or both superstars.

What about Toronto? The Blue Jays are in a big market with Rogers Communications backing them.

Toronto Blue Jays General Manager, Ross Atkins, was recently in Vancouver for the 2019 Vancouver Canadians Hot Stove Luncheon, and was asked about the Blue Jays interest in Bryce Harper.

“Bryce Harper is a very talented individual,” Atkins told Har Journalist. “We’ve spent time on every free agent to understand what the opportunity cost, and what the acquisition cost is. I don’t think there’s a team in baseball that wouldn’t have interest.”

What level of interest the Blue Jays have in landing the Harper or Machado, Atkins would not say.

“Commenting on free agents, there’s a very strict rule about that and exactly what our interest level is. As I said, he’s an exceptional talent that I think many teams would love to have.”

Toronto has a once in a generation player with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – He is expected to take over at third base this season. Prospects Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Anthony Alford are also in the pipeline and expected to make a difference for the Blue Jays down the road.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will turn 20 years-old on March 16. It’s important to surround him with talented veteran baseball players who can help him grow, and adjust to the big leagues. It shouldn’t be up to Vlad Jr, to carry a re-building Toronto Blue Jays team.

While Toronto has brought in the likes of Eric, Sogard, Freddy Galvis, Matt Shoemaker, Clayton Richard, Trent Thornton, and Elvis Luciano. These are not household names that are going to resonate with passionate Blue Jays fans. Toronto still has time to add significant pieces to their roster before opening day on March 28 vs Detroit.

“We haven’t been as aggressive in free agency,” Atkins explained. “We still have some off-season left. I think there’s at least a couple of moves remaining, and maybe more than that. We have the benefit of financial flexibility. We have a great number of talented major league players.”

“Obviously we have a very strong system that we’ll continue to create depth. When these players transition, and they are realizing their potential, is when we’ll look to be much more aggressive at the trade deadline or in free agency next year. Hopefully we are talking about the trade deadline and potentially adding. We understand that being patient is paramount for us to do anything sustainable.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a special player that can lift a franchise. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are capable of being significant additions to any batting order. Toronto isn’t going to break the bank for either player, but maybe they should.

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UBC Thunderbirds goaltender, Tory Micklash in action. Photo: Rich Lam – UBC Thunderbirds

VANCOUVER, B.C – The Canada West season wraps up this weekend with the UBC Thunderbirds hosting the Regina Cougars at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. Both teams are heading to the playoffs with potential matchups still to be determined.

The 16-5-5 Thunderbirds are locked into the third position in the conference with 49 points. UBC can’t move up or down. Regina on the other hand will either finish fifth or sixth in Canada West. An 11-12-3 record gives the Cougars 34 points. The Mount Royal Cougars sit in sixth position with 31 points as they chase down their namesake.

How big are these games?

“Honestly, not that big,” Regina Cougars Coach Sarah Hodges explained. “UBC can’t move up or down, we can move down, but not up – so in the grand scheme of things, we’ve both had more important weekends.”

A UBC vs Regina first round playoff series is a distinct possibility. The two teams last met in the playoffs in 2016. UBC won that Canada West semifinal series 2 – 1, and eventually won a silver medal at the 2016 USports Nationals.

Coach Hodges, is down playing the potentiality of a first round meeting.

“A first round playoff matchup is possible, but I think unlikely.” Hodges explained.

The Thunderbirds have a 2-0-0 record against Regina this season, out-scoring the Cougars 4-1 when the teams met at the Co-Operators Centre in November.

UBC has dominated Regina in Vancouver, with a 4-0-0 record in recent regular season play. The Cougars have been out-scored 14 – 7 and have taken zero points on the west coast in the last two seasons. Regina’s last regular season victory in Vancouver against UBC was on February 6, 2016.

“It is a potential opening playoff matchup,” UBC Thunderbirds Coach Graham Thomas told Har Journalist. “It’s either Regina or Mount Royal. A lot can still happen in the last two games. We need to be ready for that. Primarily its just going to be about us. We’re still definitely playing to win, to keep our confidence, and our game improving.”

There’s always an intense battle when the UBC Thunderbirds and Regina Cougars meet in Vancouver. It’s not on the level of the recent St. FX and Acadia University donnybrook, but UBC and Regina don’t like each other. Both teams combined for 28 separate penalties when the teams met for the first time in Vancouver last season.

Regina was called for three separate hit to the head penalties. There was several after the whistle faces washes, and plenty of stick work. It was an intense sixty-minutes of chippy hockey.

“We’re hoping that it’s not one of those weekends,” Thomas said. “I think with some of our past players that are now alumni, I think a lot of that has died off with them as they graduated.”

“This year when we played them, it wasn’t as physical. I don’t think there’s that rivalry at a heightened level anymore. I think it’s just two teams playing hard, battling, and competing. We don’t anticipate it, and we definitely won’t be looking to do that.”

While it certainly could be another physical matchup, neither team wants to head into the playoffs with any injuries. It’s a long gruelling Canada West season, and both teams will want to end the campaign on a positive note as they build momentum for the playoffs.

The rivalry might have been there in the past, but as Hodges explains, it’s dwindling.

“It’s not really.” Hodges disagreed. “The games in Regina are pretty normal. The games in Vancouver can be more physical.”

UBC will honour their six graduating senior players on Saturday. Amelia Boughn, Logan Boyd, Brie Bellerive, Emily Costales, Madison Patrick, and Celine Tardif will all be honoured prior to puck drop.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Thomas echoed. “It’s a big weekend for our seniors. It’s a lot of emotions, but we’re going to try and stick to the task at hand, and have a one-game at a time mentality.”

It’s February, and the Canada West playoffs are right around the corner. This weekend could very well be an appetizer for another classic UBC vs Regina Canada West playoff battle.

UBC Thunderbirds vs Regina Cougars, Friday February 8 at 7:00 pm pt

UBC Thunderbirds vs Regina Cougars, Saturday February 9 at 2:00 pm pt

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The UBC Thunderbirds putting in work, January 2019. Photo: Har Journalist

VANCOUVER, B.C – It’s crunch time as the race to solidify a position in the Canada West playoffs heats up. The UBC Thunderbirds are clicking at exactly the right time. UBC is on a three game winning streak thanks to back-to-back shutouts from goalie Tory Micklash.

A home sweep of the Saskatchewan Huskies helped UBC clinch a Canada West playoff spot. Where the team ends up finishing is a race that will go down to the wire.

UBC is a well-connected, close-knit team on the ice, but what about off ice?

A successful hockey team can be measured by how together the team is away from the rink.

“It’s unbelievable,” echoed fourth-year forward Hannah Clayton-Carroll. “It’s like we’re a second family. We do everything together. All of us pretty much live together in different apartments. We’re always looking to hangout with each other, and do things. Always studying together, we literally can not get enough of each other. It’s just really nice to have a good team environment, and always feel included in everything.”

“I’d say it’s like a family to me,” Waterdown, Ontario native, Logan Boyd explained. “I’m not from around here, so I’d say it’s like my family when I’m here. It’s really nice every year we have a new group of girls, everyone fits into the team really well.”

“Oh its super special,” Amelia Boughn added. “We’ve got a super special culture here. Every girl on our team just cares for the next, a tremendous amount. It’s unlike any other team I’ve been a part of. It’s my last couple of months. I’m enjoying it and trying to soak up every last-minute.”

The 15-5-4 Thunderbirds currently sit in third place in the conference with 46 points. Manitoba and Alberta hold the top two spots with 53 points each. If UBC is going to leap-frog the Bisons or Pandas and earn a first round playoff bye. They must continue playing consistent sixty minute hockey.

UBC will get a chance to test themselves against the Bisons this weekend. The Thunderbirds head out on the road to the polar vortex that is Manitoba.

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UBC Thunderbirds forward Logan Boyd, January 2019. Photo: Har Journalist

Having a positive, encouraging, and supportive atmosphere makes players want to show up, and be held accountable. Everyone in the UBC locker room is playing for each other. You won’t find culture on a depth chart, you have to build a strong foundation from within. The Thunderbirds are growing, hungry, and ready to battle for a top spot.

“I think our culture is something that’s really important to us,” Boyd explained. “We’ve built this culture where everyone is supportive of each other and everyone wants each other to do well. It’s really easy getting out on the ice knowing that everyone on the bench and in the stands has your back and wants you to do well.”

UBC is a dangerous team that can beat anyone in the country. Securing home ice advantage at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre will be the key for a long Canada West playoff run.

The 2019 USports Nationals will be held in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, March 14 – 17. As a senior forward that has won silver, and bronze at nationals with UBC. Boyd would love to close out her final season with a gold medal.

“We’re all on the same page,” Boyd said. “We know what needs to get done, and now we’re just working on getting that done.”

A winning recipe has a terrific offence, defence, goaltending, and great special teams. UBC has all the hockey ingredients necessary for success. A lot of what makes the Thunderbirds who they are is because of the strong bond the team has formed as a tight hockey family.