After dropping both games on home opening weekend to the University of Calgary Dinos — by a combined score of 13-1 — the Thunderbirds men’s hockey finally started to click this weekend in their double-header against the University of Regina Cougars.
After carrying a one-goal deficit into the third period of their Friday night match-up against the Cougars, the 'Birds rallied with three unanswered goals to take the series opener by a final score of 4-2.
Looking to rebound early after their difficulties last weekend, UBC found the net just a minute and a half into the first period. After a battle in the corner of the Cougars’ zone, the puck was cycled up to 'Birds defenceman Devan Fafard, who fired a low shot past Cougars’ rookie goaltender Michael Herringer.
Though UBC started strong out of the gate and through the early stages of the period, their pressure was quelled by Regina’s physical play and aggressive fore-check. Throughout much of the first, pucks seemed to be bouncing in Regina’s favour. Their luck would finally amount to a goal part-way through the frame when Cougars forward Corwin Stevely played a puck off the UBC end-boards. The ensuing awkward bounce put the puck in the skates of 'Birds goaltender Matt Hewitt, who lost track of it as it ended up in the net to tie the game.
The Cougars would seize their first lead halfway through the second period. A low slap-shot from the blue-line off the stick of defenceman Tyler King would find its way through traffic and past Hewitt. The goal would come on one of the Cougars’ five power plays, though the ’Birds penalty kill was perfect otherwise.
As UBC trailed into the third, they were looking for an opportunity to gain some momentum and put themselves back into the game. That opportunity came in the form of a 5-on-3 power play — the 'Birds would end up scoring twice.
The first power play tally was a one-timer off the stick of 'Birds defenceman Jerret Smith. His goal was followed 40 seconds later by a slot redirection as forward Michael Stenerson tipped the puck past Herringer to recapture the lead for the home team.
UBC’s penalty kill stayed aggressive throughout the game, which provided plenty of shorthanded pressure. Their work paid off in the 12th minute of the third, as Austin Vetterl would cap off a beautiful tic-tac-toe play on a shorthanded odd-man rush to sink the Cougars.
Overall, despite the need for a third period rally, UBC’s performance was refreshing and an excellent rebound following their woes last weekend.
“The habits just got better and the battles got better, and we got stronger on pucks,” UBC Head Coach Sven Butenschon said following the victory. “You play the odds – you play the game the right way and eventually good things will happen.”
Despite the tough bounces he faced early on, UBC goaltender Matt Hewitt played a key role in his team’s 4-2 victory. “I felt like I was seeing pucks today,” Hewitt said, following his 37-save performance. “I felt really great in the net and I’m going to try to continue that momentum for the rest of the season.”
Hewitt would get the start again Saturday afternoon, holding Regina to just two goals in the rematch. The 'Birds would take the game 3-2, sweeping the weekend series and setting them up at an even 3-3-0 record on the season.
After playing back-to-back weekends at home, the Thunderbirds head to Lethbridge next weekend before enjoying a weekend off in early November. They hope to let the momentum of this weekend carry over as they travel to take on the Pronghorns at Nicholas Sheran Ice Centre.
The puck drops to open that series next Friday at 6 p.m.