Meaning behind Mental Health Awareness night motivates women’s hockey to win over Regina

For the women’s hockey team members, the game on Friday, January 12 was more than a conventional conference game. Though the third-ranked Thunderbirds (12-4-1-2) were up to face the fifth-ranked Regina Cougars (6-10-1-2), it was also the program’s second annual Mental Health Awareness night.

The game was first established in 2017 when the team retired former UBC goaltender Laura Taylor’s jersey. Taylor passed away in April 2016 after suffering from mental illness. The event was also designed to bring awareness to mental illness and help break the stigma around it. This year, Mental Health Awareness night fell just weeks before Bell’s Let’s Talk Day which will take place on January 31.

Before the game started, UBC President Santa Ono dropped the puck for the opening ceremony. Ono has previously been involved with mental health initiatives, having spoken at the TEDxWestVancouverED in September.

President Santa Ono sets up for the ceremonial puck drop.
President Santa Ono sets up for the ceremonial puck drop. Zubair Hirji

When asked about his feelings toward the game, Ono wanted to thank the Thunderbirds for their contribution to the community and for using their platform to raise mental health awareness.

“[The Mental Health Awareness night] is a very important game to remember individuals, and also to think about what we can do to better support individuals that are having challenges,” Ono said.

“I’m very happy that the Thunderbirds are doing their part to recognize the importance of getting rid of the stigma of talking about mental health challenges.”

During the second intermission of the game, a puck toss was scheduled to help raise money for the UBC Athletes Hub website. Created by Thunderbird defenceman Mikayla Ogrodniczuk and her dad, the site serves as a resource for scientific information about mental illness issues related to student athletes.

“The importance of creating [the website] was to have a resource in between having no help and going to see counselling. So having a medium for someone to self-help and be able to recognize signs if additional help is needed by professionals,” said Ogrodniczuk.

The T-Birds wore customized helmets with green ribbons as well as white ‘LT’ stickers, in honour of Taylor, for the game.

“For us, it’s a close to home cause. So [the game] is more than just awareness and a fundraiser. It affects our family in our locker room and it’s emotional. You’re bringing up memories of Laura; for the players that played with her and for the players that didn’t, I think it just helps us stay motivated and focused,” said UBC head coach Graham Thomas of the event.

“It’s also a good reminder ... and a reflection of ... the bigger picture, and making sure for all of us we’re communicating and supporting each other as much as we can.”

In the match itself, the Thunderbirds quickly took control and scored the first goal in the first five and a half minutes as forward Hannah Clayton-Carroll slipped the puck into the net on the power play for her 10th goal of the season. The T-Birds then made it to a 2-0 lead when Emily Costales put a beautiful back-handed shot into the net at the halfway mark of the period, also on the power play.

However, the ’Birds failed to carry their two-goal lead into the intermission. In the 17th minute, Regina forward Jaycee Magwood scored the Cougars’ first of the night, decreasing the lead to 2-1 — the game only got more heated from there, and saw even more penalties called as the clock wound down.

UBC prepares for the Friday night match up.
UBC prepares for the Friday night match up. Zubair Hirji

In the second period, aggressive play from the Cougars gave the T-Birds eight power plays, two of which they took advantage of. Emily Costales notched her second goal of the game, assisted by Madison Patrick and Alexa Ranahan. Ten minutes after, defensemen Madison Patrick contributed her own goal to the ’Birds tally, solidifying UBC’s advantage in the game by widening up the gap to 4-1 — you guessed it, it was also scored on the powerplay.

Neither side scored in the third period until the final minutes of the game. This time, it would be in the Cougars’ favour. Regina sophomore forward Merissa Zerr managed a shorthanded breakaway goal with four minutes to go, ending the power play goal trend for the evening.

The Cougars were given one final scoring chance when UBC’s Kenzie Robinson and Celine Tardif were both serving penalties in the 18th minute. The T-Birds held a strong defense though, and finished the game still 4-2 up.

When asked about his team’s performance, Thomas said it was a good learning experience for the team around chippier games.

“It’s a tough game to coach and play in sometimes, there’s not a lot of flow and I think we played, I don’t know, five minutes of five on five?...,” he said. “It’s good though. It’s really good for our players to learn how to play with the chaos going on.”

He also spoke to Costales’ continued positive momentum with the team after her two goals on the night.

“She’s been excellent, she just keeps getting stronger every game.... She’s really settling in, playing with a lot of confidence right now,” he said.

The Thunderbirds faced the Cougars again on Saturday night, taking home another victory with an overtime goal. The final score was 3-2. After two straight wins, UBC is now on a four-game winning streak and is ranked first in Canada West.

Next weekend, the ’Birds are heading to Alberta to face the Lethbridge Pronghorns on Friday.