Women’s hockey ‘Birds fall to Manitoba in semifinals

History repeated itself on Sunday at the Father Bauer Arena, as the Thunderbirds were so close to reaching the finals, but lost the third and deciding semifinal game against the Manitoba Bisons.

There was silence from the crowd as the third period buzzer sounded. The scoreboard read 2-1 to the Away team, and the ‘Birds put on brave faces as they saluted their fans and left the ice for the last time this season.

There were tears even in bench boss Graham Thomas’ eyes as the team walked into the locker room. For once, even Thomas, who is fondly known for his post-game monologues, was short on words after this heartbreaking loss.

The Bisons were a stubborn herd, having won the Saturday game to even things out. They were determined to milk every goal-scoring opportunity they got, and it showed in their offensive plays. Within the first period they took a charge to the front of the Thunderbird goal, and UBC goalie Danielle Dube had one chipped past her shoulder from Rookie of the Year Alanna Sharman. The Bisons were able to hold that 1-0 lead into the third period.

In the second, Sharman almost scored again, she stole the puck from Tatiana Rafter and faced off with Dube, but the T-Bird goalie managed to move fast to keep the second period scoreless.

The game-winning goal was scored by the Bisons only 24 seconds into the final frame. With a powerplay advantage, Sharman brought the puck up and passed to teammate Alana Serhan who tipped the puck past Dube to bring the score to 2-0.

But the ‘Birds were not going to go down without a fight. Down two in the last period, UBC sent in an offensive onslaught until a four-on-four matchup found Rebecca Unrau tipping in a shot from Celine Tardif past Rachel Dyck.

Unfortunately, the Bisons tightened their defence in the last few minutes, and Dyck wouldn’t let any more pucks past her, stopping all shots fired at her in the last few seconds and preserving the Bison’s ticket to finals.

The Bisons will now be following the trail to face the Alberta Pandas for the Canada West Final next weekend, and then the winner of that series will head to Nationals.

UBC, on the other hand, finish their season with a record of 22-7-5. The ‘Birds suffered a similar fate last year when they lost their series against the Saskatchewan Huskies, but this year was a first for the ‘Birds by earning second place in the Canada West Conference and a bye week before facing the Bisons.

Now that the season is over, the ‘Birds will be saying goodbye to some familiar faces. Captain Sarah Casorso, Tatiana Rafter and Nikola Brown-John will be leaving their blue-and-gold jerseys behind and some major skates to fill. Still, the ‘Birds have every intention of bringing their Canada West 2012-13 banner some company, and will patiently wait until next March for another chance.