Posts Tagged ‘Graham Thomas UBC Thunderbirds’

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.

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

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds are flying through Canada West competition with a 20-3-1 record as they inch closer to making history. UBC is four points shy of locking up a first place finish in conference play, and thus earning a bye straight to the Canada West semifinals. A spot at USports Nationals in Kingston, Ontario would go through Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Center where Coach Graham Thomas and his players are 13-2-0.

The injury ravaged Thunderbirds have four games left as they’ve been stricken by a massive injury bug. They finished Friday’s 1-0 victory over Lethbridge with nine forwards on the bench. The next afternoon, they defeated Lethbridge 3-0, with only sixteen available skaters. Whether it’s concussions, necks, wrists, groins, knees, groins, or feet, the Thunderbirds have been in the infirmary all season.

How much of a goal is it to secure first place in Canada West?

“Absolutely, it’s a goal in so many areas,” said Thomas. “We (would) set history, and try and lock down first place for the first time ever in this program. Also, what that gives us is home ice advantage, it gives us a bye, and that is crucial for us. Some bodies we might get back, some bodies we could be losing, we’re not sure yet. That bye is going to be crucial for us, we’ve got to keep our focus on that and keep pushing.”

Cassandra Vilgrain and her teammates will travel to Regina this week to take on the Cougars on Friday, and Saturday evening. Earlier this season, UBC defeated the Cougars, 4-1, and 3-2 in Vancouver. It’s not out of the question to think that UBC could take maximum points while putting the Cougars back in hibernation. Vilgrain’s 5 goals and 17 assists have been a welcomed scoring punch, and she knows that history will be there for the taking in Regina.

“We definitely think about it,” admitted Vilgrain. “We’re not so much focused on the history of things that like the fact that we haven’t been there before. (It’s) just keeping our spot, keeping winning games. We want to keep our number one spot, so it’s definitely something we think about.”

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UBC Thunderbirds forward Cassandra Vilgrain, Photo Credit: Rich Lam UBC Athletics.

The Thunderbirds will be facing a tough challenge within their own locker room, finding enough healthy players to compete will be a process. Players have been asked to fill in and play out of position. Shiayli Toni had to play defence vs Lethbridge. The second year forward did quite well, and looked terrific breaking up a dangerous Pronghorns two on one opportunity. Coach Thomas couldn’t be more made up by his teams recent performances.

“We’re down to nine forwards in the game,” said Thomas. “We’ve got six D (defence) Toni’s playing D (defence) for the first time back there. We’re filling in holes in places, and roles wherever. They’re playing with line combos they haven’t played with, and just rolling out there. We had three centres out there sometimes. I’m just really proud.”

Defence has been a strong point for the Thunderbirds this season, the team is allowing 1.6 goals per game, and striking fear in opposition goalies by scoring 3 goals per game. Fifth year defender, Katie Zinn, scored the game-winning-goal on Friday. Zinny, as she’s affectionately known by her teammates, has a one step at a time approach down the stretch.

“It would mean a lot,” said Zinn, when asked about securing a first place bye. “It would be the first time in history, but we try and just focus on our day-to-day, rather than focus on the goal at hand. It’s been working for us so far, so we’ll probably stick to that game plan.”

With the flu bug going around, ice packs at the ready, and the odd crutches, the UBC Thunderbirds are a focused and determined team. Most teams would wilt under a lengthy injury list, fatigue, and juggled lines, but not the UBC Thunderbirds. They have history to make, and you just know they’ll find a way to lock up first place.

Notes: UBC closes out the regular season vs Mount Royal University on February 10 and 11 at The Doug.

UBC Thunderbirds forward, Nicole Saxvik. (Rich Lam/UBC Athletics Photo)

UBC Thunderbirds forward, Nicole Saxvik. (Rich Lam/UBC Athletics Photo)

VANCOUVER, B.C – The top two teams in Canada West will take to the ice tonight in what will be a fierce battle between the UBC Thunderbirds and the Manitoba Bisons. The visitors lead the conference with a 6-0-0 record, an astonishing 24 goals scored, and a mind-boggling 4 goals against. If you include preseason games, the Bisons have run the table with an impressive 17-0-0 record.

UBC has five wins and one loss to start the season, and the top two point producers in Canada West. Nicole Saxvik and Cassandra Vilgrain have both amassed 3 goals and 7 assists this season. Not to be outdone, Manitoba has seven scorers in the top ten. UBC is ranked number one in the USports rankings, while Manitoba comes in ranked seven.

Do the Bisons feel slighted by the USports rankings? Manitoba Bisons Coach, Jon Rempel weighs in.

“We have a healthy respect for UBC and their program as they have become a real force in Canada West in the last five years. My team and I pay little attention to rankings and aside from a few minor adjustments we try not to change the way we prepare for any team we are playing as we also respect every team in our conference. I believe both teams understand that this weekend is an early test for both programs to see where their level of play is at and I know we will use it as a tool to keep getting better.”

UBC Thunderbirds Coach, Graham Thomas believes that the Bisons will be ready to go from the opening puck drop. There is a mutual respect between both teams, but at the end of the day, both teams want to win. UBC would like nothing more than to end the Bisons undefeated streak, and whether they want to admit it or not (they do not), the Bisons will want to run UBC out of the barn. Especially after the Thunderbirds defeated the Bisons to win the 2016 Canada West Finals.

“Absolutely, I agree with you,” said Coach Thomas regarding the Bisons feeling slighted. “I think Manitoba’s going to be fired up. They’re already fired up coming into this rink knowing how their season ended last year. Yeah, it may give them more fuel to the fire. It’s something that we’ve got to be aware of. We’ve just got to stick to our game plan, play smart, and match the intensity, and I think we’ll be fine. Either way, it’s going to be great games. They’re a great team, they moved up to number seven. I anticipate them being in the top four in the country all year as well. I think they’re a very good team. I don’t think they’ve lost all year, even in exhibition. They’ve added some good pieces, plus they didn’t really lose too many players at all. It’s going to be a great test for us, we’re looking forward to it.”

UBC will be counting on the number one line of Nicole Saxvik, Logan Boyd, and Cassandra Vilgrain to ripple the net vs Manitoba. Saxvik has been a consistent scorer for UBC in her 5th season of eligibility. The North Vancouver, native, is on pace to match or surpass her previous season high in points. Saxvik isn’t about to take all the credit for her early success, it’s team work that’s helped the UBC offense.

“I just think it’s an overall team effort,” said Saxvik. “Our whole team is contributing everywhere and I have line-mates that are making it really easy to play with. I think there’s some kind of unspoken chemistry there. We’re finding each other, we know where to be, when to be, at the right time.”

Saxvik’s offensive outburst has been a long work in progress. Coach Thomas has been working with Saxvik to better her production in the opponent’s end of the ice. Playing with players like Vilgrain and Boyd has helped each player on that line become better. It’s early in the season, but this could clearly be a top line that could carry UBC throughout the lengthy Canada West season.

“I think she’s number one in the entire Canada West,” an unsure Coach Thomas admitted. “It’s great to see her do that. It’s something that we’ve been talking about for the last couple of years, her productions been a little bit slower or not where she feels it could be. It’s great to see that she’s finding some chemistry. I know she gives a lot of credit to her line-mates. She’s finding chemistry with (Cassandra) Vilgrain and (Logan) Boyd. She’s getting some success for sure, and it’s nice to see for her. She works hard, is a talented player, very modest, and a humble person. We’re happy for her, she’s doing a great job.”

If the Bisons are going to continue the hot streak they’re on, a strong defensive front will have to be on display. UBC and Manitoba can both pile up the goals. Whichever goalkeeper can make the saves and see her team stay out of the box will come out on top. Saxvik knows that it’s all about sticking to the systems.

“Obviously they’re going to come in real hard. We beat them in the Canada West Finals last year, they have a lot to prove. We’ve just got to stick to our systems, play our game, and I think we’ll be good.”

UBC Thunderbirds vs Manitoba Bisons 

Friday, October 28, 2016

7:00 p.m.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

2:00 p.m.