Weekend roundup: Men's hockey play with Canada West’s best in final weekend of regular season

Friday: Alberta edges out UBC in OT heartbreaker

It was a disappointing night on Friday as the UBC Thunderbirds lost what turned out to be a nail-biter to the University of Alberta Golden Bears 5-4 in overtime. A bad first period put the ’Birds behind early, but a well fought second and third and an excellent performance from the special teams proved UBC can compete with Canada West’s best.

“[In the first period] we needed to simplify our game and get some intensity. We were a little bit lackadaisical ... They came out crispy, they came out sharp, they were zinging around and [Matt Hewitt] kept us in it,” UBC head coach Sven Butenschon said post-game.

Going into the Friday game, UBC and Alberta had 7-3 records since the winter break but Alberta’s offence has been stellar, outscoring opponents 50-25.

UBC was hemmed in early and often as the game began, and were outshot 10-3 five minutes in. T-Birds starting goaltender Matt Hewitt held the line until a fluky knuckleball pass went off a leg to put the Bears up 1-0 midway through the first. Alberta scored again just five minutes later as Steven Owre blocked his own team’s point shot and pulled it around Hewitt’s outstretched stick.

Although outshot 22-4 in the period, UBC got on the board with a power play goal from Carter Popoff, as he put the puck blocker side on Alberta starter Zach Sawchenko with just over a minute to go before the first intermission.

Riley Guenther steps ahead of Alberta's Sawyer Lange.
Riley Guenther steps ahead of Alberta's Sawyer Lange. Jeremy Johnson-Silvers

The second period didn’t start much better than the first for the T-Birds, as a power play cross-crease tap-in gave the Golden Bears breathing room at 3-1. But, UBC began to pick their feet up as offensive zone time increased momentum in the home team’s direction.

“In the second period, once we added a little intensity to our game — started finishing a few more checks and we started playing in their end … they don’t like to play in their end, they want to play offense, they want to run and gun — we had success because we spent time in their zone,” Butenschon said.

Though Alberta upped their tally to three goals just one minute into the second frame, the T-Birds would respond with their own fluky goal in the seventh minute. A UBC point shot careened off the glass, floated over the Alberta net and landed at a surprised Matt Revel’s feet who did not hesitate in blasting it home to get the Thunderbirds back within a goal.

Penalties also began to pile up and UBC took advantage in the dying seconds of the frame, as Austin Vetterl tipped in a point shot for their third goal off a delayed penalty call while already on the power play.

After clawing their way to a tie, a double minor halfway through the third gave the lead back to the Golden Bears. It was an unfortunate bounce for Hewitt as the goal-line shot from Alberta's Jason Fram bounced off his stick and under his arm. UBC tied it up shortly after as Popoff got his second of the game off a waist-height redirect.

At the end of regular time, it was all tied up at 4-4.

The game would go to overtime, but not for long as Alberta’s Graeme Craig deked his way through several UBC defenders to put it top shelf on Hewitt at the three minutes mark of extra time — an unfortunate end to a wild night for the ’Birds.

Saturday: Chase Clayton caps off competitive weekend for T-Birds with game-winning goal

With the help of late game heroics from Chase Clayton on Saturday afternoon, the UBC Thunderbirds defeated the University of Alberta Golden Bears for a 4-3 bounce back win — a marked improvement over Friday night's loss.

“That was a great opponent, we won the first period, they won the second and we won the third. There’s gonna be times when the other team takes it up a notch and you gotta weather the storm and we got enough chances to put them away,” Butenschon said post-game.

Compared to the poor first period for UBC in Friday's match up, Saturday’s opening 20 minutes was an even, competitive affair. Shots were tied up at 4-4 until midway through the frame when UBC began to pour it on. A wrist shot goal by Jerret Smith and a great individual effort by Matt Revel just two minutes later gave UBC a 2-0 lead by the end of the period.

Jerret Smith puts a shot towards net.
Jerret Smith puts a shot towards net. Jeremy Johnson-Silvers

It didn’t take long for Alberta to start to close the gap. Forty-four seconds into the second, Sawyer Lange’s shot from outside the circle found its way by UBC goaltender Rylan Toth’s glove. After tying the game up at 2-2 from a tic-tac-toe passing play between Golden Bears Clayton Kirichenko, Steven Owre and eventual goalscorer Trevor Cox, the pace of play was dictated and controlled almost entirely by the Bears in the second. Fortunately for UBC, Toth made key saves on an Alberta 5-on-3 power play to keep the game tied going into the third.

Though the visitors were outshot by the Thunderbirds 29-15 through two periods, the Bears kept their offensive onslaught coming, scoring their third goal through more nifty passing early in the third. Brandon Magee would be the one to score for Alberta with a five-hole goal.

UBC bounced back two minutes later as Devan Fafard unloaded a slapshot off a face-off to tie the game at three. With four minutes to go, a big glove save by Toth started the T-Birds momentum for a Chase Clayton goal a minute later, giving the home team a one goal lead and the win.

A tell-tale win in terms of UBC's playoff potential, the significant match up was also the final regular season game for a few key veteran Thunderbirds: Matt Hewitt, Nick Buonassisi and team captain Wes Vannieuwenhuizen, who will all be graduating after this season.

“They’re heart and soul players; they’ve been able to excel at school and hockey for five years in a really challenging academic school, in a league that’s extremely competitive. With travel and having to miss school ... to be able to still excel at school is a huge honour," Butenschon said of his departing seniors.

Playoffs now loom and UBC’s first match up is set: they will play against the University of Calgary Dinos next weekend at home. Looking forward, though the T-Birds had strong showings against Canada West’s top two teams in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Butenschon still thinks anything can happen against Calgary.

“It feels good right now but we’re proof that anyone can beat anybody and if it’s Calgary ... they're not going to be scared we beat Alberta or Saskatchewan.”