VANCOUVER, B.C – Please visit Red Nation Online for my Vancouver Whitecaps at New York Red Bulls CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals match report.
VANCOUVER, B.C – Please visit Red Nation Online for my Vancouver Whitecaps at New York Red Bulls CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals match report.
VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds will battle the Saskatchewan Huskies for a spot at USports Nationals in Kingston, Ontario next month. The best of three series gets going with Game 1 on February 24, at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. Canada West will send two participants to the championship tournament and UBC and Saskatchewan want in.
On paper you might expect UBC to easily handle the Huskies, but it won’t be as easy as just showing up. The 23-4-1 Thunderbirds split four games with the Huskies this season. Saskatchewan has won two of the last three meetings, and also handed UBC their first loss of the season on October 8.
UBC Coach, Graham Thomas is hoping his team can turn the tide.
“It’s going to be a really good series,” said Thomas. “They play us hard, and pressure us. From how the last game went, they beat us in overtime. We’re looking forward to getting a little bit of redemption on that, and we’re fired up to play them.”
Coach Robin Ulrich, helped guide Saskatchewan to a 15-13-0 record. A pair of big wins over the Lethbridge Pronghorns earned the Huskies home ice advantage in the quarterfinals vs Regina. Saskatchewan defeated the Cougars 4-3, and 2-1 to set up a series with UBC.
“The Thunderbirds are a very good team,” said Ulrich. “They’re big and strong and bring a lot of offensive power. We’ve had close games with them this year and some good results. I think it’s going to be a great series and hopefully, some very entertaining hockey for the fans.”
Star forward, Kaitlin Willoughby has carried the Huskies this season, and especially during the playoffs. Her hat-trick, and series clinching goal the next night, means that UBC will have to keep a close eye on the fourth-year sniper. Goalkeeper, Cassidy Hendricks stood on her head making 59 saves vs Regina. She has defended the Huskies net with outstanding form all season. UBC will have a tough task ahead.
“Yeah, (Kaitlin) Willoughby’s dangerous,” said Thomas. “She’s a playoff performer. Plays well under pressure and she has a lot of good speed, and she can score. We’ll have a plan to shut her down, and play her defensively tough, and Hendricks. We’ll have to have our goalie coach break down the games and analyse her. She’s a good goalie, she’s from B.C. – It’s her last year, she’s got the most minutes ever played in Canada West. She’s a good goalie, big, moves well, athletic.”
The Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native, knows she’s going to be getting a little extra attention from the UBC defence. If Willoughby can find open space, and create for herself and her teammates, she could be a massive difference maker for the Huskies.
“Whenever I play the Thunderbirds, I know it is going to be a very physical and intense game,” said Willoughby. “They tend to have a bigger team than us height wise which makes the physical aspect of the game much harder. When the game becomes a battle physically I need to make sure my emotions stay in check and don’t let myself get frustrated.”
Do Kaitlin Willoughby and Cassidy Hendricks have to steal the series for the Huskies to advance to nationals?
“We need every player in the line up to bring their best games of the season this weekend,” said Ulrich. “The strength of our team lies in our ability to play a good team game and get contributions from our entire line up.”
UBC Thunderbirds captain, Steph Schaupmeyer has had many battles with Willoughby and Hendricks. She’s well aware that it’s going to take multiple sixty-minute efforts and perhaps overtime to knock off the Huskies. Eliminating what Saskatchewan does best and keeping puck possession in the Huskies zone will go a long way in helping the Thunderbirds advance.
“They’ve got great goaltending, I think we know that,” said Schaupmeyer. “Hendricks is a fifth year experienced goaltender. That’s going to be a big challenge for us. They’ve got a few girls that can put the puck in the net. I think it’s going to be keying in on some of those players, but also just playing our systems strong, and playing our systems well.”
This is the final Canada West playoff run for eight UBC Thunderbirds senior players, including Schaupmeyer who set a record for most Canada West regular season games played with 139. She’s as durable as they come, and will do anything to help her team win. That’s exactly the kind if player you would want leading any hockey team. Playoff appearances can be rare, and Schaupmeyer shared that with her younger teammates.
“It’s so exciting, honestly, I keep trying to tell the younger girls just to take it in. It may seem like this happens every year, but it doesn’t. Being first in Canada all season is a huge honour that doesn’t just happen by chance. We’ve worked for it, and I’m just excited to see how it plays out in the next couple of weeks, because it’s going to be good.”
Who exactly faces the most pressure to pick up a pair of wins this weekend with a berth at USports Nationals at stake? Both teams will also want to win the Canada West Championship the following weekend, but one has to have an eye on nationals, right?
“All of our focus is on this weekend’s series,” revealed Ulrich. “We know we have a big task ahead of us. That being said it would obviously be very exciting for us to have the opportunity to represent Canada West and our school at Nationals.”
In her first season, Kaitlin Willoughby was part of a Huskies team that made it to CIS Nationals during the 2013-2014 season. Saskatchewan earned a bronze medal. Willoughby scored the winning goal to capture the Canada West title. It’s a feeling she and her teammates want to capture again.
“It would mean so much to our team and to me personally,” admitted Willoughby. “It has been a goal of ours since day one. A goal of mine has always been to win gold at a national championship. In my rookie year we came short of that goal, so it would be amazing to get another shot at the gold!”
UBC won the Canada West title last season and they will be wanting to repeat as back to back holders. The Thunderbirds surprised folks, and earned a silver medal at CIS Nationals in Calgary, last spring. The window could be closing with eight graduating players. Thomas and his team have found a unique way of dealing with pressure that comes with winning.
“Yeah, there’s no question there’s pressure,” said Thomas, “But we talk about pressure as a privilege. We have to approach it that way, Hey, it’s fun, where excited, looking forward to the challenge. We’re looking forward to utilizing our talents, and our abilities. We’re not relying on what we’ve done in the year. We know it’s a new year. Yeah definitely there is that pressure. We talked about it, addressed it, and were ready to handle it.”
It’s going to be a fantastic playoff series with big goals, timely saves, tight checking, and one winner heading to nationals. Alberta and Manitoba are playing for the same thing in the other Canada West semifinal. The winner of that matchup will no doubt have their hands full with either UBC or Saskatchewan in the Canada West final.
UBC Thunderbirds vs Saskatchewan Huskies
Game 1: Friday February 24, 7:00 pm PT
Game 2: Saturday, February 25, 7:00 pm PT
Game 3: Sunday, February 26, 3:00 pm PT (If necessary)
VANCOUVER, B.C – Please visit Red Nation Online for my story on Whitecaps FC striker Giles Barnes.
VANCOUVER, B.C – Please visit Red Nation Online for my Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs New York Red Bulls CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals preview.
VANCOUVER, B.C – It takes an entire roster of committed, determined, and skilled players to bring a team to new heights and accomplishments. The UBC Thunderbirds are a team that’s achieving goals never before seen in the programs history. The 23-4-1 Thunderbirds are on a playoff bye week as they await a Canada West semifinals opponent next weekend.
The week away from competitive hockey allows Coach Graham Thomas and his assistants time to prepare and game plan for the semifinals. Players get extra practice, recovery time from injuries, and team bonding at the beach.
Rookie forward, Jaedon Cooke is one player who is glad to be injury free and ready for a long playoff run. On Friday, January 27, Cooke, was hit from behind during the first period vs Lethbridge. Pronghorns forward, Aislinn Kooistra, should have been ejected for her reckless and dangerous hit. Cooke was taken to the hospital for a neck injury. An MRI scan would later clear Cooke. She returned to play on Friday, February 10 vs Mount Royal.
“I was just super excited to come back,” said Cooke. “It feels like forever when you miss a weekend for anything, especially from an injury. It was really exciting to be back, and to play with the girls again. It was a lot of fun.”
The Souris, Manitoba native, has had an unfortunate run of injuries. Cooke’s last season was derailed in December when she required re-constructive surgery on her shoulder. This season she has dealt with concussions. The Thunderbirds are a close-knit family and everyone was quiet worried when Cooke went into the boards.
“Yeah, that was definitely scary,” said Thomas. “You never want to see a player carted away to the hospital. We were worried about her. She seems to be doing well now.”
The way that particular game was called was not safe for players on both teams. If players are getting hit in the head, checked from behind, elbowed, someone needs to be tossed. It doesn’t matter which team, but a tone needs to be set by those in charge. Yes, there is no hitting in women’s hockey, but the battle is still there, and players can get seriously hurt.
“Lots of times when people talk about women’s hockey, they think that it’s not aggressive because it’s women’s hockey,” said Cooke. “If you watch a game, you can see that even though we don’t have the big hits, there’s a lot of aggression all the time. They compete to win, and it definitely shows on the ice.”
Cooke has been a ray of sunshine for the Thunderbirds. She’s played 19 games in her inaugural season. She has a strong compete level, great spirit, and she has been a terrific addition to the Thunderbirds penalty killing.
“She brings a lot of leadership in her own ways,” said Thomas. “She’s fully bought in. She’s extremely bright as a person; her high school average was ninety-nine percent. It makes a big difference in so many ways. She has a good moral compass. Good character, brings a ton of energy. She’s very competitive and extremely loud. She will cheer on her teammates no matter how she’s playing or what’s going in a game. She’s team first, very committed, dedicated, and eager in wanting to learn.”
When UBC takes to the ice to Feb 24 – 26 you might have trouble tracking number 98. Jaedon Cooke is the quickest player on the Thunderbirds. She’s a speed burner on skates that gets in on the fore-check, moves the puck, and plays sound defensively. Her scoring will eventually come, and for now Coach Thomas is pleased with her game.
“She’s the fastest player on the team, and we have a pretty fast team. Her speed is incredible. She’s not been in an offensive role, but that doesn’t mean she can’t contribute down the line. She’s finding a role on the PK and contributing, using her skills. She is going to be a good five-year player for us as she gets older.”
The Thunderbirds have an excellent ability of being able to get the best out of each and every player. That makes them a top Canada West contender as they strive to make further history.
VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds finished the Canada West season with an impressive 23-4-1 record and top spot in the conference. UBC has earned a playoff quarterfinals bye and will sit back and watch the first round of playoff action this weekend. Coach Graham Thomas will prepare his team for a semifinals matchup against the lowest remaining seed. The best of three series will take place February 24-26 at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
Vancouver native, Tiffany Chiu, is one player you won’t see during the Thunderbirds playoff run. The redshirt freshman is still a big part of the UBC Thunderbirds, but not eligible for any game action.
“Basically you’re not on the roster,” said Chiu. “You get to practice, and do everything with the team, except for play games, or go away when we play away games.”
Chiu is often the first player on the ice for practice and the last player to leave. She stays behind for extra shooting drills, and rounds up all the pucks at the end. You can find her in the stands with a smile on her face cheering on the Thunderbirds at every home game. Some students might be overwhelmed by first year university life, but not Chiu.
“Personally for me, with my goals in school and hockey, it’s a perfect fit for me, especially for first year,” admitted Chiu. “Transitioning from high school to university, and being in sciences as well. I think I needed this year, just to adjust to high level hockey and school.”
Coach Graham Thomas couldn’t be more thrilled with Chiu’s work effort on and off the ice. It takes a team player to put the teams benefits above themselves. Chiu has been able to contribute, show her character, and support her teammates throughout the season.
“She’s been phenomenal,” said Thomas. “Honestly, she doesn’t complain, she doesn’t whine. She shows up everyday and just works, and really pushes the girls and makes them better. She fills in, especially in the last three, four weeks when we haven’t had enough bodies. She’s capable, skilled. I can’t say enough good things about her, she works really hard. She had a really good semester in school. She’s contributing in so many different areas. It also sends a really positive message to our team about filling rolls.”
You might find some players in the coaches office asking for more ice time, special teams duties, or this, and that. Thomas hasn’t heard a bother from Chiu. “Look at Chewey, she’s not complaining, and she’s not playing,” said Thomas.
The former Arbutus School Avalanche sniper, will eventually get her opportunity to play for the UBC Thunderbirds next season. It will certainly help having a year of school completed. Chiu will already be familiar with practices, tactics, linemates, fitness, video, and media.
“Full player next year,” said Thomas when asked about Chiu’s status next season. “She’ll have that year under her belt, school wise. That should be a little less stressful. She’ll be stronger, more skilled. I think it’s going to be a win, win. She could play for us right now, but we’re creating this development system. Players come in a little bit older, they’ve got a year under their belt, they don’t have that freshman stress in that very first year of school.”
Stephanie Schaupmeyer, Emily O’Neill, Haneet Parhar, Nicole Saxvik, Kelly Murray, Katie Zinn, Jenna Carpenter-Boesch, and Melissa Goodwin will all graduate following the playoffs, and possible USports Nationals. Having Chiu in the UBC Thunderbirds environment learning from those veteran players will help with the transition next season.
UBC has always been the school of choice for Chiu. She grew up right around the corner from the campus and graduated from Crofton House School. She was over the moon when she found out she would one day be representing the UBC Thunderbirds program.
“When Graham called me and told me he wanted me on the team, I was just so excited,” revealed Chiu. “I just love UBC. I just love the campus. We got toured here a bunch with our high school just looking at schools. I think the program and the hockey is good for me.”
The UBC Thunderbirds program is in good hands for years to come. Players will obviously come and go, but having a prospect like Tiffany Chiu bodes will for the UBC Thunderbirds. With eight graduating players, the time is now, but the future doesn’t look too bad, eh.
VANCOUVER, B.C – Please visit Equalizer Soccer for my story on Vancouver and the NWSL.