Victory for Vance: UBC taken down by Saskatchewan in goaltending duel

The Thunderbird’s hockey program was seeing double this year as both teams ended their seasons early after two tough weekends of playoff games. For the men’s side, it came at the hands of the Calgary Dinos last weekend. For the women’s side, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies eliminated them from Canada West contention on Saturday — sweeping the semifinal series 2-0.

The second-round matchup, after UBC defeated Mount Royal twice in overtime last weekend, was the battle of the third and second seeds, with Saskatchewan having home-ice advantage.

It was hard to tell whether UBC’s offence floundered or Saskatchewan’s defence was just too good for the ’Birds over the weekend. Saskatchewan goaltender, Jessica Vance, posted nine shutouts in the regular season in tandem with a 0.964 save percentage, which meant UBC knew goals would be hard to come by going in.

Game one was almost an unmitigated disaster as UBC was outshot, outpaced and outworked at almost every instance.

If not for sharp goaltending from Tory Micklash, UBC may have found themselves down more than a single goal by the end of the first period. A corner pass from Emily Upgang to Brooklyn Haubrich in front of the net gave the Huskies the 1-0 lead as they outshot UBC 15 to 5 in the first period.

UBC’s offence continued to fall flat in the second, even with two power play opportunities for the second-ranked power play in the league. The T-Birds continued to look sluggish compared to their Saskatchewan opponents but managed a few scoring chances that Vance did well to save.

The third period continued the pace for UBC as offensive opportunities were fruitless. Kira Bannatyne would give the Huskies a second goal at 10:06, almost ensuring a victory with the way their goaltender was playing.

With five minutes remaining, a Huskie tripping penalty gave UBC the powerplay in which they pulled their goalie for a 6-4 advantage. And still — even with almost two full minutes of two extra attackers — UBC failed to score, giving the Huskies a game one 2-0 win.

UBC celebrates their lone goal of the series in game two.
UBC celebrates their lone goal of the series in game two. Courtesy Huskie Athletics/GetMyPhoto.ca

Game two was in a different light for UBC. On the brink of elimination, a distinct tone of desperation crept into their game, allowing for a squad that played on the edge — for better or for worse.

The only goal of the entire weekend that Saskatchewan’s Vance would give up is one she would certainly want back as an Alexa Ranahan weak wrist shot from the circle found its way under her arm for UBC to go up 1-0 at 10:38 of the first period.

UBC seemed to have new life knowing that Vance was capable of giving up goals. Their play became notably faster and they seemed to control the game for the next five minutes until a Kathleen Cahoon butt-ending penalty for four minutes took away all momentum going into the second frame.

Midway through the match up, UBC would find themselves on the penalty kill again — one in which Saskatchewan didn’t miss. Kaitlin Willoughby unleashed an Alexander Ovechkin-esque one-timer slap shot from the top of the circle to beat UBC starter Amelia Boughn five-hole.

The goal sucked much of the life out of the ’Birds and the Huskies capitalized as Chloe Smith streaked up the right-wing side beating Boughn under the arm to make it 2-1 at 14:36 of the second period.

The third period thus became a scramble to tie the game up while still managing to play defence well enough to not give up the third goal. Each side would give up opportunities on the power play and a few lucky bounces kept the game at 2-1 going late into the third.

UBC’s last-gasp would come with a Willoughby roughing penalty with thirty-five seconds remaining, but UBC would fail to get a shot on net and handed the Huskies the 2-1 win.

With that, Thunderbirds head coach Graham Thomas is back to the drawing board for next season in hopes of making it back to nationals like they did in the 2016/17 season. He will also need to replace a few seniors as defenceman Alexa Ranahan, Kirsten Toth and forwards Cassandra Vilgrain and Kathleen Cahoon will all be graduating this year.