Posts Tagged ‘Graham Thomas UBC Thunderbirds’

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The UBC Thunderbirds preparing to take on the Alberta Pandas this weekend at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds and Alberta Pandas will be in a battle as the top two teams in USports face off on Friday and Saturday at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. The reigning USports champs bring an 8-2-2 record, against a Thunderbirds team with a 8-4-0 record, and surprising 3-3-0 record at home.

It’s been uncharacteristic for UBC to struggle at home and they’ll be looking to change that.

“It’s been something that hasn’t been a challenge for us in the past,” Coach Graham Thomas admitted. “I think it’s more so at that time of year some things that we needed to work on and learn. It’s too bad that the timing was a home game. I don’t think it has anything to do with home vs away. I think it’s just how we were playing at the time. It’s been really good building on some things, plays, rolls, creating offence, and attacking. The things we’ve been working have been good. They’re starting to come. We’re right there.”

You can sense that there is extra motivation for the Thunderbirds. While UBC beat Alberta for the Canada West Championship, it was the Pandas that claimed the ultimate prize. It’s Alberta, and not UBC that’s the team to beat. The Thunderbirds come into the series as rare underdogs. They want to show Alberta, Canada West, and themselves that they can compete, and still win big games.

“For us, it’s kind of neat,” Thomas said. “We’re usually the ones with everyone coming with their best at us, fired up to play us because we’re number one. It’s kind of nice to come into the weekend a little bit the underdog. Also, where do we stand up against the defending national champs. It’ll be good to see where we gauge ourselves. We’re excited for the challenge. It’s going to be a fast paced game, and we’re looking forward to it.”

UBC’s Hannah Clayton-Carroll is tied for first in the league with 7 goals. She has a nose for the net, and will be looking to pounce on any loose pucks. The Vancouver native, admits that UBC need to be switched on, focused, and sharper from the first whistle if they’re to get a result vs Alberta.

“I think we’re going to be a lot more focused this weekend,” said Clayton-Carroll. “For sure we want to come out strong on Friday night, bring our best, try to have a little rematch from nationals, and see where it goes. We’re trying to be sharper. We’re not struggling too much, but we’re having a little trouble bringing focus to the game. Hopefully we’re going to be crisp, and sharp this weekend.”

Anytime UBC and Alberta take each other on, it’s a circle on the calendar for Thunderbirds assistant captain, Kirsten Toth. The former Alberta defender always has a grin and a look of determination when Alberta is the opponent. The Thunderbirds, and Pandas bring out the best in each other, and Toth can’t wait to hit the ice.

“I’ve been looking forward to it,” Toth said, following practice this week. “I think as a team, we’ve been looking forward to it. It’s always a quick, fast paced series. It’s good hockey. They’re the most exciting games to play in, so we’ve just been preparing to get ready for them.”

The outspoken fifth-year veteran took a moment to pause when asked about personal motivation against Alberta.

“Yeah,” Toth said. “It’s all your old teammates, not all of them, there’s lots of turnover. You just want to show everyone what you’ve been working on, and coming off an injury. I think it’s important that I show them that I haven’t rolled over yet.”

It’s not only Toth, but the UBC Thunderbirds as a team that want to show they haven’t ‘rolled over’. The team that’s won back to back medals at USports nationals is still a serious threat to contend this season. Taking on Alberta is an opportunity to show that UBC is still here, and ready to make noise when it matters most.

UBC Thunderbirds vs Alberta Pandas

Friday, November 24 – 7:00 p.m. at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

Saturday, November 25 – 2:00 p.m. at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre

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UBC Thunderbirds

UBC Thunderbirds practicing at Father Bauer Arena on Tuesday, October 24, 2017.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds are back from a four-game road trip and ready to hit the ice tomorrow night vs Lethbridge. The 4-2-0 Thunderbirds picked up three consecutive wins on the road, before being shutout 1-0 by the Regina Cougars on Saturday. The USports number two ranked team in the country, will look for a bounce back game.

Coach Graham Thomas wants to see more pucks to the net, intensity, and an overall smarter game from his team. At 3-3, the Pronghorns sit sixth in the Canada West Conference. Lethbridge presents an interesting challenge for UBC as they have the top defence in Canada West, having allowed a league low, nine goals this season.

“Yeah, the Pronghorns always come prepared, and play us really hard,” Thomas admitted. “We’ve had some good battles with them. Tight games, and I don’t expect anything but that this weekend.”

Lethbridge goalkeeper, Alicia Anderson comes into this weekend with a .957 save percentage (1st overall), 202 saves (1st overall), and a sparkling 1.55 GAA (3rd overall). Getting traffic in front of Anderson, and shooting from everywhere will be the key to throwing the Calgary, Alberta native, off her game.

Special teams are one area that UBC wants to improve on. Coach Thomas wasn’t overly thrilled with his teams power play, and penalty killing while on the road. Both could use a positive boost. UBC certainly has the snipers to ripple the net while on the power play.

“Power play started out really good,” said, Thomas. “Our penalty kill has been better, and we’re getting that back up, but our power play does need to be better. We’re going to work on it. We’ve been making some changes, and trying some different things. There’s a little bit of grace there, and a little bit of patience with the power play.”

Playing against a stingy team like Lethbridge means dominating on special teams, and especially staying out of the box. UBC Thunderbirds, defender Kirsten Toth, leads Canada West with 26 penalty minutes this season. Cutting back her time in the box is a must.

“It’s something that we’re working with her, and talking to her about,” Thomas revealed. “It’s tough. Some of it was just off one play, she had 14 penalty minutes, a 10 minute misconduct. A little bit of fisticuffs, so I think that skews the number a bit.”

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UBC Thunderbirds defender, Kirsten Toth during practice in February, 2016.

Fisticuffs aside, UBC is a much stronger and organized team with Kirsten Toth patrolling the blue-line, shutting down opposition forwards. The fifth-year veteran is working towards more of a disciplined game, while still playing quality defensive-zone hockey.

“I think a big thing is stay disciplined going into next weekend,” Toth said. “Last weekend, I racked up the minutes, and it doesn’t look too good. It never feels good putting your team on the penalty kill. My goal personally is to stay out of the penalty box.”

Keeping Toth on the ice will be vital, but it’s also important for the entire team to stay within the game, and play whistle to whistle. Opposition teams are going to have games vs UBC circled on their calendar. UBC needs to beat them on the ice, and not in the box.

“At the same time, it’s not just Toth,” Thomas said. “We as a team need to be more disciplined. There’s some emotions that are getting the best of us. Teams come at us hard, because they want to take us down. We’ve got to be prepared for that. We’ve got to be able to still play hockey, keep our cool, and our focus.”

While Toth wants to cut back on the PIM’s, she won’t completely change her game to do that. Yes, she can play a physical brand of hockey, and still remain on the ice. It’s all about positioning, getting your stick in lanes, taking the right angle on a player, blocking out, defensive communication with teammates, and timing.

“There’s certain players on other teams that are more prone to taking penalties,” Toth said. “I think the other teams know that I’m more prone to taking penalties, but I think that just goes a long with the style of my play. Sometimes you’ve got to do, what you’ve got to do on the ice. Emotions aside, it’s important to let the other teams know sometimes that you’re there.”

Every succesful winning hockey team has players who have everyone’s back on the ice, no matter what. UBC knows that if teams can’t beat them on the scoreboard, Kirsten Toth will be there to defend, and stick up for her teammates if they want to take liberties. That’s when you can afford to kill off the odd penalty for a face wash and an exchange of pleasantries.

UBC Thunderbirds vs Lethbridge Pronghorns

Friday, October 27 – 7:00 p.m. at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

Saturday, October 28 – 2:00 p.m. at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

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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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)

 

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UBC Thunderbirds Redshirt Freshman, Tiffany Chiu.

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.