In a season filled with firsts, the UBC women’s hockey team now has its first championship. The Thunderbirds lifted the Canada West title trophy on Sunday afternoon, coming back from one game down to topple the University of Calgary Dinos in the conference final.
There were plenty of penalties in this bruising series, which followed the script of last weekend’s semi-final in Regina. UBC lost game one 4-1 on Friday night; despite dominating the play through the second and third periods, the T-Birds could not overcome a slow start to the game.
Going into game two with their backs to the wall, UBC got off to a quick start. Goals by Nicole Saxvik and Cailey Hay came just six seconds apart and gave the T-Birds a 2-0 lead six minutes into the game. Calgary clawed back to within two, but UBC’s Tatiana Rafter scored with 9:42 left in the second period to make it 3-1 and restore the two-goal lead.
But the T-Birds couldn’t hold off the country’s second-ranked team, and Calgary tied it up at 3-3 with 15:10 left in the third period. Kaylee Chanakos scored her first goal of the playoffs to make it 4-3 with 3:16 to go, but the Dinos wouldn’t back down easily. With the goalie pulled for the extra attacker, Calgary’s Melissa Zubick scored to send the game to overtime.
Facing elimination in overtime for the second time in two weeks, the T-Birds pulled off a repeat of their death-defying performance. Stephanie Schaupmeyer played hero this time, scoring the overtime winner 19 seconds into double overtime to force a game three on Sunday. Goaltender Danielle Dube once again came up big, as the T-Birds were outshot 39 to 16, but her 35 saves earned her the hard-fought victory and the honour of the game’s first star.
In the deciding third game, the result seemed to never be in doubt. The T-Birds opened the scoring on the power play, as Kaitin Imai deflected Emily Grainger’s point shot past Dinos goalie Amanda Tapp to give UBC the early lead. Calgary quickly tied it up, but Rafter answered to make it 2-1 for the ’Birds after one period. Nikola Brown-John made it 3-1 with a shot from the blue line with 6:45 remaining in the second period, and Rebecca Unrau bumped the score up to 4-1, which prompted a Calgary goaltending change.
Calgary’s Erica Mitschke scored with 9:02 left in the game to make it 4-2 and set up a tense finish. The Dinos piled on the pressure and the T-Birds spent most of the remaining time scrambling in their own zone and having to kill off a late penalty to boot. But with the Calgary net empty, Kaitlin Imai picked up a loose puck and fought off the defender, picking up the empty-net goal with 1:18 left to seal the deal.
T-Birds goaltender Dube was again a wall in net and was named the game’s first star, shutting down former Team Canada teammate Hayley Wickenheiser and the high-powered Dino offence.
No one could have predicted this incredible and historic achievement after last year’s dire one-win season. It’s been stated many times before, but even more credit has to be given to head coach Graham Thomas for masterminding a complete transformation of the team during his first season in charge.
With a trip to Toronto for the CIS national championships coming up next weekend, the question now is just how far can the Thunderbirds go? They’ve already defied all the odds; who knows what they will do for their next trick.