’Birds break down Canada West kings with 5-1 conquest

It was a good night to be T-Bird fan on Friday, as UBC shellacked the Saskatchewan Huskies 5-1 and took one step closer to clinching a playoff berth. Great passing, fantastic goals and superb goaltending completed the hockey trifecta, as UBC put together one of their best games of the season against the league’s toughest opponents.

Both the Thunderbirds and Huskies came into Friday with four-game win streaks. Saskatchewan, tied with the University of Alberta for first place in Canada West, was seeking to take sole possession of top of the standings. With a win, UBC would keep pace with the third-placed University of Manitoba.

The T-Birds put themselves up 1-0 in the first off a power play rebound, as a slapshot from Nick Buonassisi saucered over Huskies starting goaltender Jordon Cooke’s right pad. UBC’s second goal came later in the period off a strip in the offensive zone that saw Carter Popoff stickhandle through the Huskies defence to somehow score off a backhand in tight.

It didn’t take long for the Thunderbirds to extend their lead in the second, as a turnover at the UBC blueline led to a practical two-on-oh as UBC flew down the ice. A cross-crease Michael Stenerson saucer pass to Matt Revel finished the play off, giving Revel his eighth goal of the season.

Revel returned the favour shortly after, as he turned the puck over on the forecheck and no-look passed it to Stenerson who — not to be outdone on the fanciness — took the pass on the fly and backhanded it in after a spin-o-rama.

Down 4-0, the Huskies’ frustration was palpable and it culminated in a little bit of a scuffle at the second period horn after UBC took a penalty for a check-from-behind.

The rough stuff didn’t stop going into the third as big hits and penalties began to pile up.

UBC’s Wes Vannieuwenhuizen and Saskatchewan’s Sam Ruopp get a talking to mid-scuffle at the end of the game.
UBC’s Wes Vannieuwenhuizen and Saskatchewan’s Sam Ruopp get a talking to mid-scuffle at the end of the game. Lucy Fox

“Honestly, the penalty kill was maybe the best thing that could have happened to us … because it allowed us to dig in, block shots, do whatever it takes to get that kill and set the tone,” said UBC head coach Sven Butenschon on the benefits of a rough second and third period.

In the final frame, UBC goaltender Matt Hewitt elevated his play to save the ’Birds once again with a desperation dive to get his stick down on the ice to keep the shutout alive — adding to his trend of stellar saves the last few games.

Unfortunately, the shutout was not to be as Saskatchewan’s power play finally got a goal off of a Sam Ruopp high wrist shot through a cavalcade of screens, with six minutes to go in the game.

There was to be some icing on the cake though, as super passing duo Revel and Stenerson combined once more to put UBC’s fifth into an empty net.

Michael Stenerson sets up for his empty-net goal.
Michael Stenerson sets up for his empty-net goal. Lucy Fox

“It’s a battle out there, you don’t want to think to far into the future. If you start doing that you start to slip,” Hewitt said of his thought process in the game. “Overall I think getting into that mindset of ‘one save at a time’ and ‘twenty minutes at a time,’ and at the end of the night, you see if there’s a shutout or not.”

Now going into a rematch on Saturday afternoon, Butenschon recognizes it will be a bit of a revenge game for their now second-seeded Canada West opponents.

“It’s gonna be about having a good start [for us],” he said. “They’re not happy, they’re the third-ranked team in Canada; they’re gonna have a big pushback tomorrow and it’s gonna be a great test for us.”