Shift in standings: Thunderbirds drop to fourth in Canada West after two losses to Huskies

It was a clash of Canada West titans this weekend as UBC’s women’s hockey team took on the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in a two-game set with the league’s top spot on the line — things wouldn't end in the 'Birds favour.

The Thunderbirds would ultimately drop a pair of tight games in frustrating fashion —falling to a 6-4 record on the season and from first to fourth in the standings.

Following a difficult 2-0 shutout loss on Friday that saw the ’Birds go 0-for-6 on the power play, they looked to rebound in Saturday’s matchup.

Out of the gate, the game was high-intensity and high-speed. Much of the first period was played in the neutral zone and in the corners — the two teams would only generate 12 shots between them.

The best opportunities to score came off of the sticks of various Thunderbirds, as three open shots from the slot were fired on target in the opening period. Each was directed at Huskies goaltender Jessica Vance and turned aside with relative ease. Through the hard-fought and fast-paced first frame, the ’Birds lead the Huskies in shots 8-4.

The early stages of the second period resembled the first, with UBC continuing to generate pressure – particularly the line of Logan Boyd, Kathleen Cahoon and rookie Ireland Perrott.

However, the momentum quickly shifted as UBC took a bench minor penalty for too many players on the ice in the fifth minute of the second. Though the T-Birds killed off the penalty successfully, Huskies defenceman Kayla Kirwan fired a shot through traffic in the moments following, which bounced off UBC’s Amelia Boughn’s glove-side post and in to open the scoring.

Just three minutes later, the ’Birds answered with a powerplay goal off the stick of Hannah Clayton-Carroll. The puck was cycled to defenceman Mathea Fischer, who fired a shot at Vance, and Clayton-Carroll banged home the rebound to tie the game at one.

Within just 63 seconds, the Huskies capitalized on a juicy rebound of their own, as Emily Upgang’s second-chance shot trickled through goaltender Boughn and into the net, recapturing the lead for Saskatchewan. That tally would ultimately hold on be the game-winner.

Into the third period the ’Birds couldn't maintain the level of play they opened the game with. They would also face penalty troubles throughout the frame, which muted any potential opportunity they had to come back. Frustrated veteran Kathleen Cahoon took a pair of particularly ill-timed penalties, the first of which resulted in a 5-on-3 kill for the ’Birds. The second penalty was taken on a UBC powerplay, which negated the remainder of their man-advantage. Despite giving up six shorthanded opportunities, UBC’s penalty kill was perfect on the night.

“We shot ourselves in the foot … all we needed to do was keep playing the same game we were playing, and with a little extra push it would have come,” said UBC head coach Graham Thomas following the loss. “In the third we just didn’t come out with the same jump and the desperation to win.”

This was a common theme of the two losses this weekend – the team's inability to close out in the final 20 minutes. Both goals against in Friday’s loss were scored in the third period.

Despite the tough losses, coach Thomas was adamant about using the sweep at home as a wake-up call.

“In the long run, I really do think this is good for this group,” he said. “We need to be better … and this is going to force us [to be]. If we just kept winning games, and it was easy, then we never would have been faced with this adversity, and having to be better and figure things out.”

The team head's to Calgary next weekend to hopefully pick up a few more wins against the eighth-ranked Mount Royal Cougars. Puck drop for the first of the two games is at 6 p.m. on Friday.