Archive for the ‘UBC Women’s Hockey’ Category

Brielle Bellerive

UBC Thunderbirds forward, Brielle Bellerive on Tuesday, October 10, 2017.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds season continues tonight as they take on the Calgary Dinos in Canada West action. UBC opened the campaign with a 5-4 loss, and a 4-1 win over the Manitoba Bisons last weekend. The Thunderbirds will be looking for more consistency, chemistry, and a quick start from the opening whistle against Calgary.

There’s always going to be an adjustment period with the addition of seven new players. Moving players around who can fit into specific roles on the team isn’t going to be solved overnight. Coach Graham Thomas, and his staff are working to make sure players are in the best position possible to be able to contribute to the team.

One of the newest Thunderbirds is, Brielle Bellerive. The North Vancouver native, is in her first season with UBC after transferring over from Clarkson University. After playing three seasons in the NCAA, Bellerive was looking for a fresh new environment, and she knew that UBC could offer that.

“I was just really losing the love for the game,” Bellerive admitted. “It wasn’t the best environment for me there. This was such a great opportunity for me. I’d played under Dom (Assistant Coach, Dom DiRocco) and Graham (Coach Thomas) already. It’s nice to be at home, I haven’t lived at home in six years.”

What type of player do the UBC Thunderbirds have in Brielle Bellerive?

“I think a two-way forward, a bit of a power forward,” said Bellerive. “I’m still finding myself. New team, new role.”

The Thunderbirds will be hoping that Bellerive can thrive while playing in her own backyard. She’s still waiting for her first UBC goal, but she’s already picked up a pair of assists. While her on ice role is still to be determined, Coach Thomas sees a terrific hockey player with a speed, skill, size, and a strong work ethic.

“She’s a humble kid,” revealed Thomas. “I think the indications show in the first part of the year, she’s going to be a player that can play in any role. We use her in PK (penalty killing) already, lots, but also on the power play. Kind of being well-rounded and can play defence and offence. She has a great shot. She has the potential to score.”

(BEN NELMS for UBC)

UBC Thunderbirds forward, Brielle Bellerive. Photo Credit: Rich Lam, UBC Athletics.

Bellerive comes from a family that has always loved playing hockey.

“I have two brothers that play,” Bellerive said. “I wanted to take after them, seeing as it was such a family sport. I’ve always played forward, and it’s definitely competitive in my family, we’re all forwards. Growing up, we always wanted to do better than each other, while supporting each other.”

Younger brother Jordan Bellerive signed a three-year-entry level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins in September. He attended training camp, and is now in his third season with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL. Older brother Matt Bellerive, played for the Vancouver Giants, Red Deer Rebels, Kamloops Blazers, and Mount Royal University.

UBC has no shortage of talented hockey players, it’s more about putting puzzle pieces together, and finding the right combination to get the best out of everyone. Bellerive is going to play a big part in helping the Thunderbirds find success this season.

“She’s a great kid, very humble,” said Coach Thomas. “Works extremely hard, very quiet. Hard to get much out of her. She’s going to be a big presence for us. She competes hard too.”

It’s not easy to find a two-way player that’s defensively responsible, and can pile up the points on offence. When Bellerive and her teammates start clicking, UBC will have another dangerous contributor. Canada West opponents will have another challenge to deal with in shutting down the UBC Thunderbirds.

 

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UBC Thunderbirds Coach, Graham Thomas. Photo Credit: Rich Lam, UBC Athletics

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds are set to open the 2017 – 2018 Canada West season on Friday night at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre against the Manitoba Bisons. The defending Canada West Champions will look a little different this season. Seven new players are in the fold, and eight senior players that helped the Thunderbirds win bronze at USports Nationals in March, have graduated.

Coach Graham Thomas and his staff are enthusiastic about the new campaign.

“I’m really excited to see this group, and the lessons we’ve learned, and the things we’ve been working on,” said Coach Thomas. “A really strong focus this year, it’s going to be a process, and not worrying about nationals, and what happened in the past, and the success we’ve had in the last couple of years. We don’t really want to talk about that. Or put any extra pressure on winning games, and getting there. We just want to compete, mould as a unit. That’s probably one of our biggest challenges, we have a lot of new faces.”

The Thunderbirds had quite a busy preseason with three notable games against professional teams from China. Kunlan Red Star, Team China, and Vanke Rays played at an elevated level, while also providing a terrific hockey opportunity, and experience for UBC.

Acclimating seven new players is going to take some time. The preseason games have helped UBC work on line pairings, special teams, and strategies at both ends of the rink. Captain, Celine Tardif has no doubt that chemistry will start to foster as the season begins.

“It’s coming together,” said Tardif. “We’ve had a lot of preseason games to kind of see which pairings work, and stuff like that. We still have some work to do, but it will come in time.”

 

There is nothing like a good rivalry to build team chemistry and kick things into high gear. A veteran Manitoba Bisons roster will want to spoil the UBC Thunderbirds banner raising night and steal a pair of wins on the road.

“We’ve got a good healthy rivalry with them,” admitted, Coach Thomas. “There going to be, in my opinion, a team to beat this year. They’ve got a great roster, a senior roster, and that’s something that’s going to be a challenge for us, but we’re ready for it. It’s going to be good hockey. We’re welcoming the opportunity to challenge ourselves against that team, and it should be fun.”

Following the Bisons, UBC will head out for back to back road trips. The Calgary Dinos, and Regina Cougars will be the Thunderbirds next two opponents. Setting the tone at home vs Manitoba could build early season momentum for a new group looking to click.

“It’s always tough games with them,” said Tardif. “We always manage to give some pretty exciting performances, I think on both parts. I think it’s a very healthy rivalry to have. We’ll both be pretty fired up to play, so it should be good competition this weekend.” 

The UBC Thunderbirds have shown that they deserve to be among the top women’s hockey programs in the country. This season, they will be re-tooling on the fly, while taking things one game at a time. A Canada West Championship would be great, and so would another medal at USports Nationals, but for now they just want to play hockey.

 

UBC Thunderbirds vs Manitoba Bisons

Friday, October 6 – 7:00 p.m. at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

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

 

 

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UBC Thunderbirds forward, Cassandra Vilgrain in action. Photo credit: Rich Lam/UBC Athletics.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds are gearing up for the upcoming Canada West season with an exciting new challenge to help with preparations. UBC will drop the puck on a three game preseason exhibition series against teams from China. UBC will play Team China on Tuesday, September 26, the CWHL’s Kunlun Red Star on Wednesday, September 27, and the CWHL’s Vanke Rays on Monday, October 2.

“Since I’ve been here, it’s probably going to be the best competition,” said UBC Thunderbirds Head Coach, Graham Thomas. “(The) highest level of hockey that’s been here, in preseason. They’re older players, they’ve played in NCAA careers, internationally, or the Olympics. Just the level of competition, to get us ready, get our level up, to see where we are early in the year. It’s going to be really beneficial to us, regardless of what the scores are. We want to compete, and learn with the new group.”

The 2017 Canada West Champions, and USports Final bronze medalists are going through somewhat of a transition period on and off the ice. Much of the strong leadership core that helped UBC win back to back medals at nationals, have graduated from the program. The coaching staff have made adjustments and brought in new players. In her 4th year of eligibility, defender Celine Tardif, will captain the Thunderbirds this season.

“We’ve got a new leadership group beside, Celine Tardif,” said Coach Thomas. “We’ve graduated a lot of our older players, and leaders. The younger players are doing really well. The transfer players, everybody is looking really good. I’d say we’ve got a really good competitive roster again. It’s going to be about learning, and getting those games in early.”

Calgary, Alberta native, Cassandra Vilgrain is entering her second season with UBC. She piled up points last season, and is looking forward to what will be a tough preseason series. The rare opportunity to play against teams from China offers a unique experience university athletes don’t usually get.

“I’m actually really excited,” admitted Vilgrain. “I think it’s going to be a good challenge for our team. I’ve looked over the rosters a bit, there’s some pretty good players on those teams. Aside from what other teams are doing in preparations, this is going to be really good for us, to push our pace, and get prepared for the season.”

Everyone will have an opportunity to take to the ice. It’s important to spread minutes around to test out line combinations, strategies, and work on special teams. UBC will want to make sure everyone gets through the three games series healthy. It’s going to be high level competitive hockey, with UBC looking to show they can defend home ice.

“That it’ll be really good competition for us,” said Thunderbirds winger, Mathea Fischer, when asked what she’s looking forward to. “They’re really good teams, and they’re bringing  a lot of experience. I think that will be a good challenge for us, and good for us to get some competitive games in.”

China is showing a new interest in a sport that Canadians sleep, and breath all year round. The 2017 NHL China preseason games between the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings are proof that hockey is breaking boundaries and not just defined to North America, and Europe.

“It’s great international relations,” said Coach Thomas. “We obviously have a great city to host, teams come out here, train, and stay. For us, to get to play against players from all over the world, North America, Europe, and China. It’s just an awesome experience, and culture exchange. It’s a lot of fun, and great experience for the girls as a group, and the university.”

The UBC Thunderbirds are all about taking on new opportunities. This preseason exhibition series is a fantastic test to be able to play teams from China, while also putting in the necessary work before the start of the Canada West season. UBC will open their campaign at home on Friday, October 6 vs Manitoba.

 

Tuesday, Sep 26 at 7:00 PM – UBC vs CWHL’s Kunlun Red Star – Father Bauer Arena.
Wednesday, Sep at @ 7:00 PM – UBC vs Team China – Father Bauer Arena.
Monday, Oct 2 at 7:00 PM – UBC vs CWHL’s Vanke Rays – UBC Thunderbird Arena.

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UBC Thunderbirds Coach Graham Thomas on Wednesday, March 22.

VANCOUVER, B.C – A fantastic UBC Thunderbirds season, playoffs, and national championship tournament finished up on Sunday, March 19 in Napanee, Ontario. The Thunderbirds capped off the 2016/2017 campaign with a bronze medal at USports Nationals. They defeated hosts, Queen’s in the quarterfinals before a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to McGill in the semifinals. UBC rallied the next day, and beat Concordia 2-0 to take a medal back to Vancouver.

UBC Thunderbirds Coach, Graham Thomas is happy with his team’s performance.

“Really proud, really proud,” said Thomas. “You’re right, it wasn’t what we wanted ideally. It had a different feel to it. We competed really hard. I guess winning that very last game on the very last possible day you could play, versus losing last year. I know it’s a bronze, not a silver and not a gold. It still had a different feel. It had a very rewarding feel for our seniors, and for our players to finish up on a real positive note.”

With eight graduating seniors, this was the year that UBC really wanted to win a national championship, but that’s also the goal of seven other competing teams. UBC was seeded first, followed by the three conference winners across Canada. The heavily stacked McGill Martlets were seeded fourth, which was a bit of a head scratcher.

UBC and McGill played a terrific game. There was back and forth action, a specialty teams battle, physical intensity, and brilliant saves from goalkeepers, Amelia Boughn (UBC), and Tricia Deguire (McGill). If you weren’t closely following the tournament, you might of thought it was a gold medal game. It was not. It was a chance to go to the gold medal game.

Having two conference winners playing in a semifinal game, with the other bracket featuring two conference runners-up playing in the other semifinal, makes no sense. You should be rewarding the Canada West and RSEQ winners. They should have played the opposite runners-up. UBC vs Concordia, and McGill vs Alberta, this didn’t happen.

“The format needs to change to have something to address what happened, said Thomas. “They (McGill) should have been a two or three seed. The semifinals, we had the Canada West Champion, and the Quebec Champion playing in a semifinal knockout. On the other side, we had the two runners-up from the exact same two conferences playing on the other side.”

The USports National Championship tournament seeding below shows the conference winners, 1-4 and the runners-up, 4-8. The teams in BOLD all won quarterfinals games. If a re-seeding had taken place before the semifinals, UBC and McGill would not have faced each other in the semifinals.

1. UBC Thunderbirds (Canada West Champions)

2. Guelph Gryphons (OUA Champions)

3. Saint Mary’s Huskies (AUS Champions)

4. McGill Martlets (RSEQ Champions)

5. StFX X-Women (AUS Finalists)

6. Alberta Pandas (Canada West Finalists)

7. Concordia Stingers (RSEQ Finalists)

8. Queen’s Gaels (Hosts)

“It was setup that way, and it makes sense,” said Thomas. “You keep the integrity of the pool together, but they do need to have an exception in there. Not always are you going to have the same two conferences runners-up and champions making the top four. If that does happen, there should be a re-seeding. It does not make any sense to have the two champions play. You earn the right to be a champion in your league. For us it would have been Concordia. Then if you look at it our way, we get rewarded for being the champion and a top seed, versus now having to play McGill, which arguably could of been the gold medal game.”

Essentially it was busted brackets after exciting upset quarterfinals victories by Alberta, and Concordia. A great achievement for the Pandas and Stingers programs. It shows that anyone can be upset, but then having a 6 vs 7 in the semifinals, that’s bonkers.

“Again, you can’t go back,” said Thomas. “I’m not complaining, but I do think they need to look at it in future years. It makes sense.”

UBC came into the tournament with a 23-4-1 regular season record, and a 4-2 record in the playoffs. A team that was peaking all season, mowing down the competition, and then facing a few speed bumps in the playoffs. Those bumps (and bruises) tend to take a toll when you are always facing your opponents top game. UBC had injuries at nationals as did every other team. They also had a flu bug that struck several players at an inopportune time.

“It ran through five or six of our players,” revealed Thomas. “We weren’t able to play (Mairead) Bast very much. Her injury was catching up to her. She didn’t play in the bronze, and we she didn’t play very much in the semifinal game. We ran into some injuries, but I think a lot of teams are that way. I give our group a ton of credit for just playing. I thought we played really well.”

It’s a long haul from start to finish. Players get injuries, rehab, and sometimes play through injuries choosing to fully recover after the season and playoffs. UBC was hit hard by injuries all season. It’s possible that a healthy Thunderbirds team may have had more success at nationals.

“I think it did affect us,” admitted Thomas. “At the same time, it made us stronger. It’s a fine line. We got a lot of other people in there who got a lot of valuable game time experience. It’s hard to say that’s what it was for sure. So much has to go right in order to be national champions. In one game knockouts, and how long our season goes, so much needs to go right.”

Going into next season, UBC should be primed for another year of positive results, and more success on and off the ice. Eight seniors will be moving on, but they have definitely left their mark on the Thunderbirds. The next wave will have learned from some of the best players to play for UBC. Getting back to nationals will be tough, but you sure wouldn’t want to bet against UBC with the way the program has developed and thrived.

“We feel confident in our returning group,” said Thomas. “That we have it in us to get back there again, and to have a year similar to what we had this year, but it is going to be a challenge. We’re going to be gunned after even more for being back to back Canada West champs, and being bronze medalists, and medalling back to back.”

UBC wants to be a team that’s mentioned in the same breath as successful programs like McGill, and Alberta. They want to build a team that goes all the way and wins gold. They’re certainly knocking on the door, and others have noticed. UBC has become a university with excellent education opportunities, and a top women’s hockey program.

“It really has changed the scale of our program now,” said Thomas. “I credit that to the players that are in this program, and have been in this program. They’ve changed the culture here. It’s a winning culture now. We’re a program that’s going to be challenging for a championship or a national championship every year. It was a big statement year. It’s really exciting, it’s really gratifying. I’m very proud of the girls and what they’ve done.”

As the Thunderbirds prepare for exams, warmer weather, and exciting offseason plans. They’ll still have a focus on how they can get back to the big dance, and win the ultimate prize.

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UBC Thunderbirds goalie, Amelia Boughn in action vs Queen’s Gaels on Thursday, March 16.

VANCOUVER, B.C – It’s going to be a marquee matchup on Saturday afternoon at the USports Nationals, when the UBC Thunderbirds take on the McGill Martlets. The winner will earn a spot in the championship final on Sunday at the Strathcona Paper Centre, in Napanee, Ontario.

Thursday’s quarterfinals saw the number one ranked Thunderbirds dispatch the hosts, Queen’s Gaels with a 2-1 win. McGill’s Gabrielle Davidson scored a pair of goals to help the number four seed Martlets defeat StFX 3-1.

This will be the third meeting between UBC and McGill in the last year. The Thunderbirds won 4-2 in a quarterfinals game last year at nationals. It was an intense, and physical game that had a lot of feeling. UBC also defeated McGill 3-1, during a preseason tournament this past fall.

UBC Coach, Graham Thomas is expecting a far different game on Saturday.

“There a different team than we saw in September,” said Thomas. “They didn’t have (Gabrielle) Davidson, and (Mélodie) Daoust in the lineup. They’re back ,and their seniors are really strong players for them. We’ll have to be very sharp. They’ve got a strong freshman goalie (Tricia Deguire). It’s going to be two really good teams going after it. Great program, and we’re excited for the challenge.”

Neither coach wants to provide bulletin board material for the other team. While a rivalry might be brewing, McGill Coach, Peter Smith wasn’t taking any bait.

“Yeah, we play them three times in around a year,” said Smith when reached by phone. “We’re happy to play them again. They’re a good team, and we like playing good teams. It’s all about what happens on Saturday. We’ll be ready to go, and they’ll be ready to go.”

Smith isn’t concerned with the Thunderbirds number one ranking they’ve had since October. McGill won’t be in awe by the Thunderbirds accomplishments. Once the puck drops, rankings and awards make no difference.

“It’s similar to playing any team,” admitted said Smith. “We want to be prepared and be ready to go. We don’t spend a lot of time looking at rankings and seeding.”

McGill’s high-powered offence features 2017 Player of the Year finalist, Mélodie Daoust, Olivia Atkinson, Marie-Philip Lavoie, Gabrielle Davidson, and rookie Jade Downie-Landry. Martlets goalkeeper, Tricia Deguire was named 2017 USports Rookie of the Year. McGill is stacked, and will look to play a high-tempo game. Playing a full sixty-minutes remains a question for a team that’s still very young.

“I think the hallmark of our team, we want to play fast, and play with good structure,” said Smith. “We need to stick to the plan from start to finish, and play fast. We’re a fast team and that’s what we want to do.”

UBC will feature their own dangerous offence. Defender, Kelly Murray was named to the All-Canadian First Team, and Cassandra Vilgrain was named to the All-Canadian Second Team. Captain, Stephanie Schaupmeyer, Nicole Saxvik, and Kathleen Cahoon are also ones to watch. Saxvik scored the wining goal vs Queen’s with 2:43 left in the third period.

“They’re a very good team,” said Saxvik, when asked about playing McGill. “It’s going to be battle. We have to do our homework. Hopefully the puck will go our way.”

The McGill program has a long storied history, and a high prestige across Canada. They’ve always been a program that other universities want to emulate with multiple national championships. UBC is looking to take the next step with their first national championship.

“It’s two really competitive programs,” said Thomas. “McGill is one of the most decorated programs in Canada. They want to keep their dynasty going. You have a program like ours, up and coming, and we want to accomplish what they have accomplished.” 

The Thunderbirds will be looking to get some rest for goalkeeper, Amelia Boughn who battled food poisoning on the eve of the tournament. Boughn toughed it out, and made 17 saves vs Queen’s. She earned praise while playing on adrenaline, and not much else.

“We’re really happy to get some food and fluids into her,” said Thomas of Boughn. “She’s just incredible. Yeah, it was great to see. It was her call. She’s had a quarter of a bagel, and a little bit of chicken noodle soup, and not a lot of sleep. It’s important to give her some rest.”

UBC and McGill will be looking to see which team can post a ‘bagel’ in net, and which team can turn up the offence. It’s going to be an exciting game with two fantastic programs battling for a spot in the USports Championship game.

USports National Championship Schedule. All Times: ET

Friday, March 17

11:00 a.m. Quarter-final 3: No.3 Saint Mary’s vs No.6 Alberta

3:00 p.m. Quarter-final 4: No. 2 Guelph vs. No. 7 Concordia

7:00 p.m. Consolation 1: Queen’s vs. StFX

Saturday, March 18

11:00 a.m. Consolation 2: Loser QF 3 vs. Loser QF 4

3:00 p.m. Semifinal 1: McGill vs UBC

7:00 p.m. Semifinal 2: Winner QF 3 vs. Winner QF 4

Sunday, March 19

11:00 a.m. 5th-place game

3:00 a.m. Bronze

7:00 p.m. Final

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New York Riveters, Kaleigh Fratkin (L) and Tatiana Rafter (R) in Newark, New Jersey on March 2.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds are back at USports Nationals, and the number one ranked team are looking to bring back gold to the University of British Columbia. A feat that has never been accomplished by a UBC hockey program. The Thunderbirds have achieved an unprecedented amount of success under Coach Graham Thomas, Assistants Mike Sommer, Dom Di Rocco, and Pasco Valana.

New York Riveters players, Kaleigh Fratkin, and Tatiana Rafter have a close connection to the UBC Thunderbirds. Rafter represented UBC from 2010-2015. Several of the current Thunderbirds played alongside her. Fratkin hails from Burnaby, B.C. and skates with the Thunderbirds during the summer to stay active. To see UBC competing at the highest level in university hockey is quite the accomplishment.

“I think it’s unbelievable,” said Fratkin. “Growing up I had the opportunity to see UBC in my back yard, and their program was one of the worst at the university level. I actually knew Graham Thomas because he was at Syracuse at the time, and he was actually doing some recruiting. He ended up leaving and going to UBC. It was actually amazing to see the turnaround that he did, and his ability to recruit the top end players, and make UBC one of the best programs at the Canadian university level.”

The 24 year-old Fratkin, is in her second NWHL season. The pair have a soft spot for UBC. Rafter contributed 61 goals and 55 assists during her time with UBC. She led the Thunderbirds in scoring during the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons. Also, the first three seasons with Coach Graham Thomas behind the bench. Rafter has watched a massive shift in approach, positivity, and skill since her inaugural season.

“It was crazy,” said Rafter. “When Graham came in. I had two coaches prior to him, my first and second year. He came in my third year, and we had two (2-24) wins the season before. We only changed three players in our personnel. He just really implemented the whole philosophy in believing in ourselves. It was just building confidence within the program, and helping build a legacy. I thought that was really cool, over my time there seeing the changes from my first year, all the way to my fifth year.”

UBC is locked in as the number one seed at the Strathcona Paper Centre, Napanee, OntarioThey’ll take on the hosts, Queen’s Gaels on Thursday at 7:00 PM ET. It’s going to be a different tournament than last years in Calgary, where UBC won silver. UBC is the team to beat, they’ll be getting every opponents top game. They won’t be able to sneak up on anyone. The pressure is certainly there, but is there an advantage as a number one seed?

“Yes, and no,” said Fratkin.”This biggest thing in that situation is every team you play against is going to want to beat you. I think the good thing playing at the university, and college level. Regardless of how you do in the regular season it doesn’t really matter. It comes down to that playoff side. The great thing about being a top seed, you kind of take on this responsibility and ownership to always bring your best game forward, and play every game like it’s going to be a playoff game, and just have that expectation that you want to win, you want to be a winning team. UBC has become a winning organization. To see them at the top seed, is awesome.”

It takes more than just players to turn around a hockey program. You can have the most talented players available, but if they are all going in different directions, it doesn’t work. The current UBC coaching staff have brought in structure, a positive mind-set, and a belief that anything is possible with hard work, and determination. UBC sticks up for one and other, and plays together, always team first. The scoring, defence, and special teams all come as a result of preparation, and putting in shift after shift. If UBC had been at that next level that they are at right now. Fratkin may have chosen UBC over Boston University.

“To be honest if UBC was as good as a program when I was going through the recruiting process, I could have possibly gone the Canadian route. For me, it was kind of a no brainer to go the NCAA level. At the time the growth of women’s hockey, especially at the Canadian level wasn’t as strong. It was a no brainer to go to the NCAA. Now you see a lot of girls from the NCAA going to CIS (USports). You see a lot of girls staying in the Canadian universities. UBC’s an unbelievable school. The fact that now their program is strong, it’s kind of a no brainer. I would have stayed locally if I had the opportunity, because UBC’s one of the best schools in the world,” said Fratkin.

The 25 year-old, Rafter has kept in close contact with her former teammates, and she’s sending happy thoughts. The Riveters prepare to battle the Buffalo Beauts, in the 2017 Isobel Cup Playoffs. The semifinal game takes place on St. Patrick’s Day at Barnabas Health Hockey House, in Newark, New Jersey. Fratkin and Rafter will prepare while keeping an eye on UBC’s progress at USports Nationals.

“I’ve been tweeting at some of the girls,” revealed Rafter. “I’m really proud to see where the program has come. It’s really great to see, players that when I was in my final year, and they were in their first year. I’m really proud to see their growth, and how they’ve developed to leaders.”

When Fratkin and Rafter return to Vancouver in the summer they could very well see an addition to the UBC trophy case. The Thunderbirds are a testament of what can happen when you have all the right pieces, in place at the right time. All that’s left to achieve is a USports National Championship and that starts on Thursday.

Team (Playoff Finish: Regular Season/Playoffs) 

1. UBC Thunderbirds (Canada West Champions: 23-4-1 / 4-2)

2. Guelph Gryphons (OUA Champions: 20-3-1 / 5-1)

3. Saint Mary’s Huskies (AUS Champions: 18-3-3 / 4-2)

4. McGill Martlets (RSEQ Champions: 16-4-0 / 4-1)

5. StFX X-Women (AUS Finalists: 16-8-0 / 5-3)

6. Alberta Pandas (Canada West Finalists: 21-4-3 / 3-2)

7. Concordia Stingers (RSEQ Finalists: 10-9-1 / 2-2)

8. Queen’s Gaels (Hosts: 14-8-2 / 1-2)

USports National Championship Schedule. All Times: ET

Thursday, March 16

3:00 p.m. Quarter-final 1: No.4 McGill vs. No.5 StFX

7:00 p.m. Quarter-final 2: No.1 UBC vs No.8 Queen’s

Friday, March 17

11:00 a.m. Quarter-final 3: No.3 Saint Mary’s vs No.6 Alberta

3:00 p.m. Quarter-final 4: No. 2 Guelph vs. No. 7 Concordia

7:00 p.m. Consolation 1: Loser QF 1 vs. Loser QF 2

Saturday, March 18

11:00 a.m. Consolation 2: Loser QF 3 vs. Loser QF 4

3:00 p.m. Semifinal 1: Winner QF 1 vs. Winner QF 2

7:00 p.m. Semifinal 2: Winner QF 3 vs. Winner QF 4

Sunday, March 19

11:00 a.m. 5th-place game

3:00 a.m. Bronze

7:00 p.m. Final

 

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The UBC Thunderbirds vs Saskatchewan Huskies. Photo Credit: Josh Curran/Ubyssey

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.

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Saskatchewan Huskies forward Kaitlin Willoughby. Photo Credit: Saskatchewan Huskies Athletics.

 

“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.”

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UBC Thunderbirds Captain, Stephanie Schaupmeyer. Photo Credit: Rich Lam UBC Athletics.

 

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)