T-Birds win historic conference championship

The UBC men’s hockey team made history on Sunday night at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Arena after a hard fought for a 5–3 win over the University of Calgary Dinos, claiming their first Canada West (CW) championship title in 53 years.

The momentous victory was not without struggles though, as the ‘Birds initially fell to Calgary 5–2 in a chaotic series opener. Initially, the ‘Birds seemed strong as they dominated in the first period and opened the scoring. Unfortunately, this momentum was lost in the second period when five Dino goals were scored in just over six minutes. UBC tried to make a comeback, but could only net one more goal before time ran out.

Although much of the series opener was defined by a rough playoff style of hockey on both sides, (relatively) few penalties were called throughout the night.

Saturday saw a much cleaner and more even game than the previous night. With less roughing and fewer goals from both teams, UBC came out on top 2–1, following a game-winning third period goal from third-year forward Jack Wismer.

Chris Douglas celebrates his goal from Saturday's 2–1 win.
Chris Douglas celebrates his goal from Saturday's 2–1 win. Lauren Kasowski / The Ubyssey

With the title on the line, it had seemed the Thunderbirds were in for yet another disappointment on Sunday night when Calgary player Riley Stotts scored just a minute and a half into the game. However, two UBC goals from Ryan Pouliot and captain Chris Douglas in the later half of the period reignited both the ‘Birds and their fans.

Despite the one goal lead, the ‘Birds struggled at the top of the second period when they received two consecutive delay of game penalties making for nearly four straight minutes of penalty kill time. UBC’s special teams prevailed though which seemed only to further energize the ‘Birds as they ended the second period much the same as the first — by scoring two goals. Shots by veterans Tian Rask and Jake Kryski put the Thunderbirds in a comfortable 4–1 lead.

Douglas' after scoring in the championship game.
Douglas' after scoring in the championship game. Isa S. You / The Ubyssey

The Dinos rebounded, scoring two goals in the third period to come within a single goal at 4–3. But an empty net goal scored by none other than the UBC captain sealed the deal. Although there was 15 seconds left in the game, the Thunderbirds started hugging and cheering as if they had already won the game.

The last few seconds of the game were dragged out by a fight, but finally, the buzzer sounded and the UBC players came onto the ice tossing their sticks, gloves and helmets in celebration. Even Conner McDonald, who was injured late during Saturday’s game, shuffled out onto the ice in a boot cast to celebrate the historic win with the rest of his teammates.

Assistant coach Matt Revel, a T-Birds alumnus, reflected on the long-awaited championship and head coach Sven Butchenschon’s importance to the team. Last week, Butchenschon was also named the CW men’s hockey coach of the year.

“It's pretty special, this team, and what Sven does with the players,” said Revel. “We don't do this without Sven and [without] him allowing us to come to the rink every day and have fun and just enjoy ourselves.

Although Friday’s game saw UBC netminder Cole Schwebius’ lowest save percentage this season at 0.762, he bounced back to improve to 0.905 for the next two games. Schwebius’s resilience in key moments of Dinos’ pressure proved to be a crucial part of the T-Birds’ Sunday comeback.

“We've come a long way even since the first [quarter-final] series against Alberta with our mental toughness and controlling our emotions and we showed that today,” said Revel.

"It's really special to be part of," said Revel.
"It's really special to be part of," said Revel. Isa S. You / The Ubyssey

“It's been a long journey,” he said. “So it's really special to be part of.”

The team’s win, coincided with the women’s hockey team being named CW champions earlier that day as well, marking the first time two titles have been won on UBC home ice.

The T-Birds will play next in Toronto on March 14, where they will compete with the rest of Canada’s top teams for the U Sports University Cup National Championship.