It was the first home playoff game in 44 years, and the Thunderbirds played like it. From the opening faceoff bodies were flying -- neither team backed off from finishing their checks, which was bad news for the University of Manitoba Bisons early on. Most of the play was in the visitors’ end, and the ‘Birds were working them over. They were rewarded at 2:44 as Dillon Wagner jammed in a barely-loose puck at the side of the net to make it 1-0.
And they weren’t done there. The home team smelled blood in the water (or, what’s the bird equivalent – mice in the field?) and they weren’t about to let Manitoba off the hook. Just a minute later, Luke Lockhart deked hard on Bison goaltender Deven Dubyk’s glove side and lost control, letting the puck slide gracefully through the blue paint right onto Jessi Hilton’s stick, who made no mistake in slamming it over Dubyk’s sprawling pad.
The pace only picked up from that point on. The game opened up and it was the Bisons’ turn to start throwing their weight around after Jason Yee took a holding penalty to put his team shorthanded. UBC fell into a lot of trouble in their own zone -- Manitoba clearly saw their powerplay as a chance to stop the bleeding and get themselves back in the game. They did.
UBC netminder Eric Williams stood on his head for the majority of the kill, but a slapshot blocker side finally got through him, giving the visitors life halfway through the first. This is the point when things progressed from hard-nosed to chippy, as every whistle blown within 20 feet of a net took a good 30 seconds to resolve the ensuing scrum. A penalty to each side rounded out the first.
The wild pace continued into the middle frame, and just a minute in, Thunderbird Greg Fraser finished off a sick feed from Nick Buonassisi on a 2-on-1 to put his team up again by two. Not about to stop there, Hilton was sprung on a breakaway not 30 seconds later, but his wrister was stopped point blank by the blocker of Dubyk. Bardaro put an exclamation point on the opening five minutes by finishing off a slick give-and-go down the wing to give UBC a 4-1 lead.
Then, the Bisons woke up. Most of the play was in the Thunderbird end toward the middle of the game, and the chippiness died down as both teams were focused on the task at hand. Williams was forced to make a few of his 33
saves on the night around this time, and it looked like Manitoba might be serious about a comeback.
Unfortunately for the visitors, as so often happens to teams in this league, penalty trouble caused it all to fall apart. At 13:34 Bison Dustin Bruyere was called for a check to the head, resulting in a two-minute UBC powerplay and a 10-minute misconduct for himself. The ‘Birds seemed focused on keeping the play in the opposing end, which they did well. There were no risky pinches or flubbed shots, just pressure for most of the time they had with an extra skater. Then, at 16:50, just a minute and change after the penalty expired, Manitoba’s Channing Bresciani was called for tripping, all but killing any momentum his team had generated during the frame.
The Bisons weren’t about to roll over, though, as they got their swagger right back in the third after UBC’s Wagner took a hooking call. It was up to Williams to keep them in it as the ‘Birds had some serious trouble on the penalty kill again. A miraculous cross-crease diving save and another one sliding to his right stymied the powerplay that should’ve given Manitoba life.
The final nail in the proverbial coffin came at 18:05 on a UBC powerplay, as captain Ben Schmidt blasted home a point shot through a screen to erase any doubt as to who was in control of this game.