Big guns and special teams lead ‘Birds to huge win

Big guns and special teams lead ‘Birds to huge win

Jeff Sargeant/UBC Thunderbirds

VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds (9-13-3) outplayed, out shot, and out scored the visiting Regina Cougars (3-20-2) earning a much-needed 5-2 win Friday night at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

Austin Vetterl scored twice while Chase Clayton scored his Canada West leading third short-handed goal of the season as the Thunderbirds are now within two points of the final Canada West playoff spot with three games left in the regular season.

Tyson Predinchuk and Zach McPhee replied for the visitors.

"We needed that win and we got it," said UBC head coach Sven Butenschon.

"It was a little bit closer in the first couple periods than I would have liked, but in the third period we just simplified our game and just skated and good things happened. We got pucks deep, played physical and went to the net. Nothing fancy, it was just greasy."

It was a tight, chippy affair through the first 40 minutes with the game locked at two apiece until late in the middle frame. Regina coughed up the puck while on the power play sending Clayton and Michael Stenerson in on a 2-on-1 rush. Clayton one-timed the pass past Mitch Kilgore for his eighth of the season which stood up as the eventual game winner.

UBC's fourth short-handed goal of the season was the definitive turning point in the game as the T-Birds dominated the third period outshooting the Cougars 14-1.

Luke Lockhart gave the 'Birds their first two-goal lead of the game at the 6:29 mark with his seventh of the season from Wes Vannieuwenhuizen and Adam Rossignol. UBC then got some extra insurance with four and a half minutes remaining. Kilgore made a pair of saves in an impressive sequence but the Cougars couldn't clear the puck which allowed Stenerson to put home his third of the season from Lockhart and Rossignol.

The win improves the Thunderbirds to 7-5-1 on home ice this season and thanks to Lethbridge's regulation loss to the Golden Bears Friday night, UBC remains within striking distance of a playoff spot.

The Cougars had a decent start to the game and opened scoring 5:15 into the first period with Prednichuk's fourth of the season. He knocked in a bouncing puck in the crease after teammate Ian McNulty tried to stuff the puck past UBC goaltender Derek Dun at the side of the net.

The T-Birds tied the game at the 9:47 mark taking advantage of their first power play opportunity. Manraj Hayer made a beautiful feed down-low to Vetterl who finished the play for his seventh of the season. Anthony Bardaro picked up the second assist. The same trio combined to give the 'Birds their first lead of the game with less than two minutes to play in the period as Hayer once again found Vetterl with a cross-ice feed.

The Cougars tied the game at two 5:39 into the second when McPhee took advantage of a strange bounce and deflected the puck over Dun's left shoulder for his fourth of the season. UBC then took the lead for good at the 16:14 mark with Clayton's short-handed marker.

The Thunderbirds outshot the Cougars 38-20 with Dun's 18 saves good for his fourth win of the season.

UBC went 1-for-7 on the power play and killed off all four Regina chances.

Vetterl's two-goal effort earned him the game's first star as he now has six points in his last two games and 12 points in his last eight. Bardaro and Hayer finished the game with a pair of assists each, the former earning second star honours. Stenerson and Lockhart each finished with a goal and an assist.

The Thunderbirds host the Cougars again Saturday afternoon for their final home game of the regular season in another must-win scenario as they continue to hunt for a playoff berth.

For the rematch, Butenschon wants to see more of Friday night's third period, only earlier in the game.

"We can't take a period to feel ourselves into the game," said Butenschon.

"Right from opening puck drop we need to be business like and make them play on their heels. We need to push the pace."

Puck drop at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre is 4 p.m. PT.

IMAGE CREDIT: Rich Lam