Jeff Sargeant, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds (16-10-2) head into the Canada West playoffs as a confident group after closing out the regular season with a 4-3 win over the No. 1 ranked Alberta Golden Bears (23-4-1) Saturday afternoon at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
Tied at two heading into the final period, The Bears pulled ahead for the first time 4:08 into the third with Brandon Magee's ninth of the season, finishing in front off a Riley Kieser feed.
But just like the night before, the T-Birds remained tenacious and tied the game at three less than three minutes later. Adam Rossignol won a faceoff in the offensive zone right to Devan Fafard who shot the puck right on net, past Bears' netminder Brendan Burke and in for his second of the season.
Overtime loomed for the second straight night but with just under three minutes remaining in regulation, Raymond Grewal made a centering feed from below the goal line to Chase Clayton who hammered the puck without a doubt to the back of the net for his seventh of the season and what proved to be the game winner.
The Bears outshot the 'Birds 39-23 while Rylan Toth picked up his second win in net making 26 saves through the final two periods.
Saturday's first period couldn't have been more different than the night before. This time it was the Thunderbirds who opened up a 2-0 lead by the 14 minute mark. Jerret Smith got the ball rolling with his fourth of the season wristing the puck from the top of the right circle. Tyler Sandhu and Nick Buonassisi picked up the helpers.
Just over a minute later, Matt Revel blew past two Bears in the neutral zone before releasing a perfectly placed shot over Burke's left shoulder for his tenth of the season. Smith earned his second point of the game with an assist, Kyle Becker got the second helper.
The second period saw the Golden Bears come storming back. It took all of 44 seconds to cut into the 'Birds lead when Sawyer Lange's wrist shot beat Toth for his second of the season from Luke Philp and Magee. The visitors then tied the game at the 9:37 mark when Trevor Cox finished a tic-tac-toe play for his seventh from Clayton Kirichenko and Steven Owre.
Special teams didn't play as nearly big a role Saturday as the night before with UBC failing to score on their lone man advantage of the game which turned out to last a whopping 22 seconds before the 'Birds were called on a trip. The Bears finished 0-for-4 as UBC held the Canada West's top power play to two goals on 12 combined chances over the weekend.
The Thunderbirds finish the regular season with a 16-10-2 record and 34 points, the biggest point total for UBC in 29 years.
The 'Birds now shift focus to the Canada West quarter-finals where UBC will host either the Calgary Dinos or the Mount Royal Cougars for a best-of-three series starting Friday, February 16th at Doug Mitchell, just the second home ice playoff series for the T-Birds in 47 years. An official series schedule will be released shortly.
The Bears have earned home ice throughout the conference playoffs and will host a semi-final series against the lowest remaining seed starting Friday, February 23rd.
PHOTO: Bob Frid, UBC Thunderbirds