Posts Tagged ‘Thunderbirds Coach Graham Thomas’


The UBC Thunderbirds during practice at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre on Wednesday, February 14, 2018.

VANCOUVER, B.C – It’s the most wonderful time of the year for hockey fans, that’s right, it’s playoff time. The puck drops on the Canada West quarterfinal playoffs this weekend. It’s going to be a barn burner between the defending Canada West champion, UBC Thunderbirds and the Mount Royal Cougars. The Thunderbirds just missed out on a first round bye, and as a result they will have to tangle with a hungry Cougars team.

“There won’t be any surprises,” said UBC Coach, Graham Thomas. “We both know each other pretty well, and just saw each other out here. We can never take any team lightly, there a stingy team to get goals on. They’re well coached, hard-nosed, they never quit. There going to come at us, they’re motivated. It’s going to be a good matchup, everybody is tied for first right now.”

UBC won all four regular season games against the Cougars and most recently a pair of games to close out the Thunderbirds home schedule. Three of those games were tightly contested as one-goal victories. The Cougars can hang with the Thunderbirds, but can they come into Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre and win a playoff series?

“If the regular season is any indication it should be a fairly tight series,” said Mount Royal Coach, Scott Rivett. “We expect both teams are going to compete extremely hard, be physical and we are going to have to try and do a good job at minimizing their speed and skill throughout the series. I think both teams have strong goaltending and we suspect that will be at the forefront for both teams this weekend.”

Not only will UBC looking to pick up the pace, but they will also be looking to bust out of a scoring drought. UBC has scored just 9 goals in the previous 7 games. Getting shots on goal, finding ways to create chances, and converting will be imperative if UBC is to have any post-season success.

Thunderbirds leading-scorer, Hannah Clayton-Carroll rippled the net with 12 goals this season. She admits that she’s feeling a bit of pressure to produce when her teams needs her the most.

“Yeah a little bit,” Clayton-Carroll said honestly. “It’s more of a team effort. I kind of just tap it in, but the teams working together and getting the goal as a team. Yeah, hopefully we can do that a couple of more times.”

The USports 5th ranked Thunderbirds will need to put together a solid sixty-minute effort, and possibly overtime as well. Winning the special teams battle, staying out of the box, and firing more pucks on net will make all the difference. Creating those opportunities in the Cougars defensive zone starts with the most common strategy.

“It starts with our break-out,” revealed Coach Thomas. “If we can break-out with more speed, with closer little passes, and support coming up the ice. Also if we’re not getting hemmed in our zone  for extended periods of time. Just getting in front of the goalies eyes, we’ve got to get traffic in front of Zoe (De Beauville). Assuming she’s going to play.”

You might think that Mount Royal comes into this best of three series as the underdog, but you would be mistaken. On any given day, anyone can turn up and win. Sports isn’t played on paper, it’s not decided on a whiteboard, or from a fantasy draft.

The Cougars aren’t afraid of the back-to-back Canada West champions or the silver, and bronze medals UBC won at previous USports Nationals. Mount Royal has fought, and clawed their way into the Canada West playoffs, and they’re coming to make some noise.

“Winning in this league at any time is difficult let alone in the playoffs,” said Coach Rivett “I think the experience we gained last year finely getting the opportunity to play in the post season was huge for us and now just being here isn’t good enough. Learning how to win in Canada West at this time of the year is an important step for our program to take.”

The third-year, Vancouver native and her teammates will be ready to go on Friday afternoon. They’re out to prove that UBC is still a force to be reckoned with. The Thunderbirds and every other USports playoff team in Canada wants to win a gold medal. It all starts in the quarterfinals with a crucial series against a determined Mount Royal team.

“I think we’ve just got to be smart as a team,” Clayton-Carroll said, following practice this week. “Work together, go through our systems, know them well, and make sure that we’re ready to show up Friday, Saturday, and Sunday if needed.”

There is no better atmosphere than playoff hockey. Teams are out to show what they’ve accomplished all season. Playoff hockey separates the contenders from the pretenders,. UBC and Mount Royal are going to bring exciting, fast-paced hockey to The Doug.


(3) UBC Thunderbirds vs Mount Royal Cougars (6)

Friday, February 16 – 3:00 p.m. at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

Saturday, February 17 – 3:00 p.m. at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre

Saturday, February 18 – 1:00 p.m. at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre (If Necessary)


The UBC Thunderbirds following practice on Tuesday, January 16 in Vancouver, B.C. 

VANCOUVER, B.C – The fourth annual UBC Thunderbirds Winter Classic will take place on Friday night at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. The UBC men’s hockey team will host the Lethbridge Pronghorns. Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m. and $5 tickets can be purchased at the door.

The UBC Winter Classic is a fantastic event that brings the community, campus, and fans together. It’s a great opportunity to pack ‘The Doug’ and create a tremendous playing atmosphere for athletes on both teams. A spirited crowd of 5,500 spectators is expected.

While the Winter Classic is a spotlight event for the UBC men’s hockey program, there has yet to be a Winter Classic game for the UBC women’s hockey program. There have been preliminary discussions about a possible doubleheader event in the future.

“We’ve got some plans in the works with the department on trying to do some festivals or event next year,” Coach Graham Thomas said, earlier this week. “The winter classic has been a tremendous success. I know that Calgary, Mount Royal have done a men’s and a women’s doubleheader at the Saddledome. The universities get behind it, and they pack it.”

The sixth annual Crowchild Classic features the University of Calgary vs Mount Royal University in a series of varsity sports including hockey, basketball, soccer, and volleyball. On the ice, Calgary and Mount Royal will battle at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday, January 25. Previous editions have drawn crowds of 3,000 – 5,000 for women’s hockey, and 8,000 – 12,000 for men’s hockey.

“The challenge right now,” explained, Coach Thomas, “We did sit down with our events people, and we’re trying with the men to set up and doubleheader for next year. Whether that becomes a Winter Classic or not, that’s out of my pay grade. We still want to do something. The men are wanting to do something, different and exciting around that.”

Hosting a potential joint doubleheader down the line would be a logistical obstacle. UBC is the furthest from any Canada West university. It would be challenging to have both a women’s and a men’s program travel to Vancouver to compete in a potential Winter Classic on opposition ice, with fans cheering against you.

What about the men’s hockey program? Is sharing a Winter Classic with their neighbours down the hall something that would be of interest? Having a marquee event is special, if a doubleheader came to fruition, would the men’s team support it?

“Yeah, that’d be fun,” said Coach Sven Butenschön. “Graham and I have talked a lot about getting a doubleheader going. It would be a really great experience for everybody. It would be really neat.”

Captain, and 5th year defender, Wes Vannieuwenhuizen has watched the women’s team and knows what they’re all about. He, like his coach would be all for a women’s Winter Classic.

“I think that would be great.” Vannieuwenhuizen said. “I think the women’s team deserves a lot of recognition. It would be great for them to be a part of the Winter Classic. I think all the guys would really enjoy that.”

Having the chance to lace up your skates, and play in front of a sold out crowd is an amazing opportunity. Thunderbirds forward, Kathleen Cahoon was at the 2017 UBC Winter Classic. She saw firsthand how terrific, and exciting it was.

Canada West Ice Hockey (CIS): Women -  UBC Thunderbirds host Regina

UBC Thunderbirds forward Kathleen Cahoon. Photo Credit: Rich Lam, UBC Athletics.

“I would love to see one,” said Cahoon. “I actually got to see the men’s one last year, because I was out with injury. It was really exciting and everything. It would be nice to see that kind of hype, and promotion coming up for the women’s side as well. I think any women’s team on campus deserves it. We’ve all proven that we’re all good teams. I think equal support is definitely something we should strive for.”

If success and achievements count for something, the women’s program has consistently been ranked among the top hockey programs in USports. The women’s team has won back to back Canada West Championships, and made a pair of trips to USports Nationals. They won bronze in 2017, and silver in 2016. Having a Winter Classic would promote the team to a never before seen level, and provide more awareness for the sport.

“I think it would definitely validate the program for the school,” Kirsten Toth said. “When you talk to people who don’t have a strong sports background. I think they don’t really even realize that there’s a women’s hockey team on campus, and if they do, they don’t realize the success we’ve had over the last five years.”

UBC does promote women’s sports. There are events, and opportunities for fans on campus to attend all sorts of activities over the course of the year. When it comes to women’s hockey specifically, there has never been a specific event organized, marketed, and planned to shine a light on the women’s hockey team.

What would it feel like to have the stands packed for a Winter Classic game?

“It would be a phenomenal feeling,” said Toth. “A feeling that a lot of these girls on the team, probably haven’t experienced before. I know I sure haven’t experienced a packed arena this size. Part of the reason why I haven’t experienced it, and we as a team haven’t experienced it. It’s because something like that’s never been organized for us. Our games are promoted minuscule compared to the other teams on campus. It’s something that we’re working towards bettering for our program in the future.”


UBC Thunderbirds defender Kirsten Toth during practice.

Why is there no Winter Classic for the UBC women’s hockey team?

Toth shares her take.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the risk factor involved and kind of the ideas that are stereotypes surrounding women’s hockey, that we can’t get people in the seats. I think if athletics was to put the time, energy, and resources into planning a women’s winter classic, and it didn’t turn out. I think that they’d be shooting themselves in the foot for it. It’s never been attempted before. From my first year, and I’m now in my sixth year, I’ve seen tremendous growth in terms of getting people in the seats, and support for the teams.”

Finding a way to keep fans engaged and entertained throughout the course of two hockey games could be tricky. That’s where beer comes in. The Ryerson Rams lowered beer prices during their version of their Winter Classic.

Gilles Lepine, Senior Athletics Director of UBC Athletics, wants to create a memorable and special event that creates buzz, and gets people excited on campus. The Winter Classic is thought as the winter, UBC Homecoming event.

Would Lepine like to see a women’s Winter Classic at some point down the line?

“That’s definitely a possibility, but right now, we’re not there. We’re just trying to finalize this one.” Lepine said.

Everyone knows that football is the bread and butter university sport, but hockey is Canada’s most beloved and favourite pastime. Hockey is number one, and it puts people in seats.

“I think you’ve got a point there, I think you’ve got a point,” Lepine agreed. “Hockey definitely, because it’s a national Canadian sport, people love the sport, but it’s difficult to bring those people in every game. Definitely, that’s our challenge. If they come, have fun, next time they will come again, and maybe we can have more than one Winter Classic.”

UBC knows how to put on one outstanding Winter Classic, and they’ve done a great job. No challenge is ever easy, that’s why it’s a challenge. It’s 2018, and it’s time to reach for new heights. The UBC women’s hockey program should be in the next Winter Classic.




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.


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.”


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)



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.


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.”


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 Women's Hockey Coach Graham Thomas.

UBC Thunderbirds Women’s Hockey Coach Graham Thomas.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The momentum of ‘Roll Train’ has helped take the UBC Thunderbirds all the way to the CIS National Championship in Calgary, March 17-20. The team identity of relentless, respect, and resilient paved the way for ‘Roll Train’ to be born as the theme of the Thunderbird season.

Head Student Athletic Trainer, Daisy Parti came up with a clever acronym of ‘Relentless on Leaving a Legacy”. As Coach Graham Thomas describes, it was a team effort that bridged together ‘Roll Train’.

“We have our team identity, which is relentless, respect, and resilient. If you’re going to be a Thunderbird you’re going to represent these things,” said Thomas. “Every year we get a new team theme, we have our identity and our theme of the year. This year in Calgary we had a big team meeting and we just threw out a brainstorm session. We threw out all these different team themes and they (players) brought that idea up and everyone liked it and voted on it. Our trainer Daisy Parti was in their brainstorming. Now that we have the idea of a train being our theme. Our trainer used part of the team identity and came up with the Roll Train (Relentless on Leaving a Legacy).

As winners of Canada West Universities Athletic Association, UBC will be seeded anywhere from 1-4. Winners from the Atlantic University Sport, Ontario University Sport, and Quebec RSEQ conferences will also be in contention for a top four seed. Runners up will await seeding from 5-7.

The following teams have qualified for nationals, Saint Mary’s Huskies, Montreal Carabins, Guelph Gryphons, UBC Thunderbirds, McGill Martlets, St. Thomas Tommies, Western Mustangs, and Calgary Dinos. SMU, Montreal, and UBC have all won their respective conferences championships. The only seeding for certain is Calgary, as hosts they will be seeded 8th. Thomas has a bit of an idea on further seeding.

 “The first top four seeds are all your league champs. They base that seeding on how your record was during the year and your strength of schedule,” explained Thomas. “They base it a little bit off the top ten and what your regular season record was. Knowing that, if Guelph beats Western on Saturday and they are league champs. Guelph will be number 1, Montreal will be number 2, and it will be between us and the Atlantic Conference for seeds three and four.”

Thunderbirds supporters should keep an eye on the 4 vs 5 matchup. There is a very good chance UBC could matchup in an opening game against McGill. The Thunderbirds and Martlets tangled in Kingston, Ontario, on Sunday, September 20. Three unanswered goals carried UBC to a 3-2 victory.

The former Syracuse Assistant Coach is game planning for any and all opponents UBC could face. If McGill happens to be on the other side of the ice on Thursday, Thomas will have his team ready to go.

“Honestly looking at it, I think they’re going to be the number 5 seed and I think we’re probably going to be the number 4 seed. I feel like we are going to get the number 4 seed, and not the third seed so we will play them,” said Thomas. “We played well and tough against them, but they were missing their Canadian Olympian, their best forward, Mélodie Daoust. She didn’t play in that game when we played them. We’re a different team then we were then, we’ve developed a lot and come a long way. Either way we feel confident against whoever we are playing, but yeah it could be a UBC vs McGill matchup right off the hop.”

UBC Thunderbirds Women's Hockey Coach Graham Thomas during practice.

UBC Thunderbirds Women’s Hockey Coach Graham Thomas (right) during practice.

Montreal, McGill, UBC, and Calgary are the only teams that have this week off from competition. A long lay-off in between games could potentially hurt any of these teams. On the other hand, much-needed rest after a long gruelling season appears to be most coveted with teams nursing bumps and bruises. You want your team as healthy as possible heading into nationals. Coach Thomas explains.

“I think it helps us, it helped us when we got a bye into the semis. We have (Danielle) Dube’s injury and four or five other girls that are banged up and playing through injuries over the weekend. It gives us time to heal them, prepare on our game and get our game stronger and better train.”

This isn’t the first time UBC Coach Graham Thomas has guided the Thunderbirds to the ship. The 2012/2013 season was a fantastic season and a surprising Team UBC headed off to nationals in Toronto. It didn’t go so well and UBC was out-matched. This time around, Thomas, his coaching staff, player leadership core are preparing advice so UBC can go to nationals, and come back as CIS champions.

“We got a little bit maybe too caught up in the miracle run we had in our first year and when we got to Toronto, it was so new. I think there were a lot of distractions and Dube got pneumonia. I think our team was a little all over the place,” reveals Thomas. “We also travelled and didn’t have a bye week. This years setup for us, we’ve been to Calgary lots and we’ve played out of that rink lots. It feels a little bit like a second home for us.”

“Back to your question about advice, I think just not letting distractions not getting in the way. Don’t be excited to be there. Come there with a purpose and have a belief and a purpose that we can be national champions and believe in that.”

UBC will be hoping the Markin MacPhail Centre will indeed provide a second home during nationals. It won’t be enough just to have an invitation to the dance. The Thunderbirds are looking to ‘Roll Train’ right through the competition and leave as 2016 CIS National Champions.

UBC Thunderbirds defender Kirsten Toth.

UBC Thunderbirds defender and Sociology Major Kirsten Toth.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds Women’s Hockey Team are resting up and preparing for what could potentially be a long and gruelling playoff run. Coach Graham Thomas saw his team split a pair of matches against the Manitoba Bisons on the final week of the season. UBC chances of earning a playoff bye came to fruition thanks to a Regina Cougars loss on Sunday night. UBC claims the second seed in the CWUAA and will wait to see who survives the quarter-final series from February 19-21. The Thunderbirds would then host a Canada West semifinal series the following weekend from February 26-28.

UBC Thunderbirds defenseman Kirsten Toth has made quite a name for herself in her first season with UBC. The Langley, B.C. native known for her physical style of play has helped shore up defensive zone stability heading into the playoffs. Toth scored her 1st goal of the season against Manitoba in a 4-2 UBC victory. The five-foot and eleven inch defender is coming into her own after missing the first half of the season due to red shirt eligibility rules.

While sitting on the sidelines Toth was the brains behind the famous ‘Stupid Questions Female Hockey Players Get Asked’ video. Toth was available for an interview and discussed the famous video, how the team is preparing for the playoffs, and just what exactly is her pre-game meal routine before a big game.

How would you characterize the season?

Personally this season has been short so far for me because I just started playing in January, I had to red shirt for the first half. I think it’s been a pretty consistent season overall for the team. This conference, Canada West is pretty tight. You can’t guarantee a sweep ever, no matter who you’re playing against. The girls have managed to win most of their games thus far. I think it’s been pretty consistent overall.

You’ve only played in a dozen games this year how did you manage to stay a part of the team?

I was skating with the team every single day and every single practice. For the first half I didn’t travel with them on the weekends, but I was at every single game at home. It was kind of bitter-sweet for me just sitting and watching. It’s nice to finally be back.

How did you keep your focus while waiting until the day you could play for UBC?

It was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. I think jumping back halfway through a season wouldn’t be as difficult as it was, but I’ve noticed in my play, I’m nowhere where I used to be. Hopefully it will come before the playoffs. It was a tough transition only practicing, because you can’t get that game speed in practice, you can only get it in the games.

You were previously with the Alberta Pandas why did you decide to make the move to UBC?

Personal reasons first and foremost. I’m from Vancouver and I grew up here so I kind of have a network here. I just wasn’t getting what I wanted to be getting out of the University of Alberta, academically hockey wise, athletically, and socially. I decided to take the plunge and so far so good. I’m really confident about my decision and I think I made a really good decision.

What kind of defenseman are you?

I’m not really sure, it changes. I like to think of myself as an offensive defenseman. I think I move the puck well and I see the ice well. This year so far I’ve been having a little bit of trouble just getting back into it. I’m not quite where I want to be so I’m not sure how I would describe myself at this point. I think, offensive d-man and I move the puck well. I’m very physical, I play a big game, I’m a pretty big girl.

How does your size help you against opponents who might think twice about going into the corners with you?

Well we can just ask the team here, the UBC girls. They were a little bit nervous about me coming in. I don’t think anybody likes playing against me in this league. I feel like I’m the type of player that you’d love to have on your team and you just don’t want to play against. I think they don’t mind.

Overall how have you fit in and been received by your teammates and the program?

This is definitely the best team I’ve ever been on in terms of a team dynamic. A lot of positivity in the dressing room, it’s not like a team I’ve ever played on before. It’s pretty genuine and it definitely translates to into our game as you can see.

UBC Thunderbirds defenseman Kirsten Toth looks on during practice.

UBC Thunderbirds defenseman Kirsten Toth looks on during practice.

Heading into the playoffs how is the confidence and emotional level of the team?

I think we’re ready to go. I think especially for a lot of them it’s been a long emotional season and I think there is no better time for playoffs than right now. I think we’ve all been building up for it. I think the girls are pretty confident and I definitely think I’m ready. Confidence is the key to success so we feel pretty good.

What does it mean to the team to have clinched a first round playoff bye?

It’s the best thing we could ask for. The first round bye means we get a little bit of a rest. Obviously we aren’t going to take any time off. We’re still going to keep the intensity up in practice, but it’s just that little extra rest that we can hopefully use to push through to nationals. It also means we get to play at our home arena so our fan base will be here for us.

What is the team’s goal, to win the Canada West Championship and the CIS National Championship?

The team goal is to definitely win the national championship. Obviously that’s our long-term goal, but right now we’re going to take it one game at a time.

What three things does this team need to do each and every game to win in the playoffs?

We definitely need to stick to our systems. I think our breakdowns throughout the year have come from a breakdown in our system. We work hard and we’re usually not the team that gets out worked. Having said that, that’s another thing. We need to make sure that we aren’t getting out worked by other teams. We need to go in with confidence and I think all three of those things we can get done.

You helped put together the ‘Stupid Questions Female Hockey Players Get Asked’ video. How did that video come about?

It came about, well it was for a class assignment. The instructions for the assignment were pretty broad, it was to create a viral video. I’ve never created a viral video before, but I figured if we’re going to do something like that we might as well have fun with it and try and send a message. It all happened so fast. I sent out a text to the girls asking if they wanted to be in a video, come to the rink. A few girls showed up and we just went from there. My classmate Bobby (Saretsky), he cut the video and made it look real good.

Why do you think certain individuals are knowledgeable about hockey in general, but not women’s hockey?

I think we’ve said it quite a few times over the last couple of months. I think it all comes down to the exposure that women get and the opportunities. They’re nothing like the opportunities and the exposure that men get. I don’t know if it’s just ignorance, but I think mostly people aren’t very educated on women’s hockey because they don’t see it, they don’t hear about it. I think that’s what it comes down to. Hopefully one day we can see some more opportunities and some more exposure in the media and get the women’s game going.

What are some of the misconceptions? 

The video says it all. It’s just silly questions that to us we just think it’s common sense, but to the average person they’re clueless, they have no idea.

Going forward what needs to be done to bring more positive, coverage, attitudes, and support for women’s hockey? 

It starts with everyone making that honest effort to cover the women’s game. It’s obviously not going to happen immediately right out of the gate. To see some sort of progress in the next couple of years would be really amazing, especially for a lot of young girls who are aspiring to be hockey players. I rarely have ever heard in my life of any young girls saying ‘I want to be a hockey player when I grow up,’ because there is just no opportunity? Right. Unless they want to sacrifice a family, a job, and money. You can’t really get those things when you’re playing professional hockey as a woman because you can’t afford it.

Did it surprise you that the video blew up?

That was the whole idea, I can’t say I’m surprised because that was the assignment. I did do some behind the scenes research on it, if there was anything like that out there and there wasn’t. There aren’t a lot of women voicing their opinion in the way that we did and I think that was the whole idea. To get through to people in a way that hasn’t been done before, because people don’t listen when women are preaching for that equality so we tried a different approach.

What was the general reaction from your friends, family, and complete strangers?

Positive. It was a positive reaction definitely from everyone and I think it was positive for a number of reasons. It was funny and also because it needed to be said. I think people realize that the women who dedicate their entire lives to this and they don’t get anything out of it. I shouldn’t say they don’t get anything out of it, because you have all the memories. At the end of the day, that’s essentially kind of heartbreaking for what some women want to make of their life with a hockey career.

Will there be another video?

Yeah we’ve talked about it. I don’t know about a sequel, I think we’ve been talking about something new. It’s definitely a project. We’re going to need some time if we do decide to get something going again. Will have to sit down and plan it out. We’re going to take some time post-season of course, because we’ve got to stay focused right now.

How is school going?

I’m a Sociology Major, it’s good.  I Major in Sociology and I think that’s kind of where I’m coming from here. There are a lot of girls who are in Kinesiology and Sciences, but this is kind of close to my heart and that’s why I chose to make the video. For me it’s just black and white, and looking at the big picture. I’m definitely an advocate for women and equality. I think it can go a long way.

Favourite hockey team?

If we’re talking NHL, I think I’d have to choose the Canucks. They’ve always been my team.

Favourite hockey player?

My favourite hockey player… a tough defenseman that can move the puck well, Shea Weber.

Why do you wear number 55?

There is no special reason to be honest. I use to wear number 5 when I was growing up coming through minor hockey and major midget. When I came to my first year at the University of Alberta, there was a veteran player that had number 5 so I just decided to add another 5 on to it and switch to 55. Now I love it, great number.

Do you have any superstitions? 

Yes I do, I have lots of superstitions. I wouldn’t expect the average person to understand, they’re a bit weird. It’s just kind of like my game-day routine, it’s a little bit OCD.

Can you share one of them?

I think it’s in my on ice warm-up. I just do everything the exact same and it’s a little bit weird. Left skate before the right skate. Yeah that definitely is a thing. When I’m on the ice and in my pre-game warm-up if something goes wrong, I just lose my mind.

What is your pre-game meal?

Oh yeah, I love to cook. My pre-game meals are always pretty extravagant. I like to focus on that on game-days. Especially on Friday’s at home, I like to get a stir-fry going or a spaghetti.

Anything else to add?

I think just to come out and support your Thunderbirds. I think it’s going to be a big closing on the season and we can expect some big things here at UBC because we’ve been working hard.

Kirsten Toth, Thank You very much and good luck in the future.

Notes: Special thanks to Kirsten Toth and the UBC Thunderbirds Women’s Hockey Team.