Jeff Sargeant, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER - A gritty push wasn't enough for the UBC Thunderbirds (5-10-1) who dropped their final game of 2017, 6-3 to the visiting Manitoba Bisons (9-5-2) Saturday afternoon at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
The 'Birds had a big hole to dig out of down 3-0 midway through the second but got some serious momentum off Chase Clayton's third of the season with just under three minutes remaining in the period. The third-year forward picked up his own rebound at the side of the net and after a couple jabs at it, the puck got past Manitoba goaltender Byron Spriggs and in.
The Bisons were on their heels for the remainder of the period and the 'Birds picked up where they left off to start the third. Just 3:17 in, Matt Revel found Jerret Smith streaking to the net as the defenceman scored his second of the season to pull UBC within one.
But three minutes later Manitoba responded to restore their two-goal lead with Kamerin Nault's second of the game and tenth of the season.
UBC finally got a power play chance eight minutes into the third when Calvin Spencer was called for charging, and the 'Birds made good on it. Michael Stenerson fed the puck to the slot to a waiting Tyler Sandhu who roofed it for his fifth of the season, once again pulling UBC within one.
But the Bisons refused to let the T-Birds get any closer. Michael St. Croix added his sixth at the 12:17 mark and Liam Bilton hit the empty net for his fourth with just over two minutes remaining to hand UBC an eighth straight loss to close out the 2017 portion of the Canada West calendar.
"The guys responded in the first couple minutes of the third," said UBC assistant coach Kelvin Cech following the disappointing end to the unofficial first half of the season. "Unfortunately (Manitoba) still got a couple bounces their way and all of a sudden it's yanked out of your hands again, so it's pretty frustrating."
The 'Birds put up 20 shots in the third period alone as they desperately tried to turn the tide and close out the year with a win. UBC outshot the Bisons 42-39 through 60 minutes. The T-Birds went 1-for-2 on the power play while Manitoba finished 1-for-3.
The Bisons opened scoring for the second straight game with Nault's first of the afternoon from St. Croix and Zach Franko at the 6:13 mark of the first.
Manitoba doubled their lead on the power play five minutes into the second when Blake Heinrich released a blast from the top of the left circle for his first of the season.
The visitors made it 3-0 at the 14:12 mark when Lucas Skrumeda beat Rylan Toth over the glove for his first.
Toth finished the game with 33 saves while Spriggs stopped 39 for his seventh win of the season.
The T-Birds now enter the exam and holiday break tied with the Lethbridge Pronghorns for the sixth and final Canada West playoff berth.
"Hopefully the break will allow us a little bit of a mental reset," added Cech. "Guys can go back and look back at the first half of their seasons and try to get better in the second half."
UBC starts the new year in Calgary with a weekend doubleheader against the Dinos January 5 and 6.
PHOTO: Rich Lam, UBC Thunderbirds