By Rachel Villari (Sports Information Assistant)
VANCOUVER — The No. 9-ranked UBC Thunderbirds women's hockey team completed a sweep of the No. 8 ranked-University of Manitoba Bisons this afternoon, defeating them 5-2 in their last home game of the regular season at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. With the pair of wins, the Thunderbirds (16-1-5-4) have overtaken the Bisons (13-5-7-1) in the Canada West standings, moving into second in the division with 54 points.
Senior Tatiana Rafter, who was honoured prior to the game along with Nikola Brown-John, gave the home crowd a fond farewell as she scored a pair of goals and an assist in the victory. She now sits third in the Canada West in scoring with 14 goals, 14 assists, and 28 points.
"It was a really emotionally charged game," Rafter said, following the victory. "I'm just really happy with all of it. My linemates really help me make sense on the ice and my teammates are just amazing people. I couldn't ask to be on the ice with better people. We're building momentum here and staying positive, we have a lot of good communication so it should be a good second half of the season."
The Bisons struck first, rushing the net on a power play just over three minutes into the game. After a barrage of rapid-fire shots, forward Courtlyn Oswald was able to poke one through for Manitoba's first tally of the afternoon. The Thunderbirds were able to regroup and rebound though, leveling the score with 3:07 left in the opening period. Rebecca Unrau intercepted a pass in the slot and made no mistake beating a stunned Rachel Dyck for her 14th goal of the season. The game remained tied at 1-1 after 20 minutes of action.
UBC took charge of the game halfway through the second period, securing their lead with a pair of back-to-back goals 1:33 apart. The first came from the top line as Rafter won a battle along the boards creating a two-on-one with Nicole Saxvik. Rafter feathered a great pass across to Saxvik who made no mistake for her 11th goal of the season. Moments later on the power play, Rafter found herself in front of the net, this time for a tip-in off of defenceman Celine Tardif's slap shot. The Thunderbirds took a two goal lead into the final period, 3-1.
The Bisons bounced back in the third with their second power play goal of the game. Manitoba's Michelle Pawluck found the net for her third goal of the year, off of a feed from Alana Serhan, the forward's ninth assist of the season.
Stephanie Schaupmeyer furthered the Thunderbirds' lead halfway through the period, controlling a bouncing puck in front of Manitoba's net. The goal was her third of the season, and her line's third of the game. Rafter rounded out the scoring on the power play, beating Dyck from the high slot for her second of the afternoon and 14th of the season. The power play goal was Rafter's eighth of the year, tops in the Canada West.
"We played the full 60 minutes this afternoon," head coach Graham Thomas said after the game. "We played with desperation, with a will to win and executed. That will and that drive to get the puck and win those battles just over powered them this afternoon. I'm just really proud of the team. We had a tough challenge coming into this weekend with one of the best teams in the country coming in and we did it. They worked really hard and the deserve it. They earned it."
Senior Brown-John agreed in part with Thomas, but had an addendum to what fueled UBC's stellar performance. "It was an emotional last home game, but I think the emotions helped us. It kept us charged and I think it also motivated the entire team. This afternoon everyone just came together and we all were looking at that common goal and we all worked really hard to get there. We're on a roll here now, we've got to keep this momentum going into the playoffs."
UBC is now on a five-game winning streak. For their final series of the regular season they head to take on the division leader, the University of Alberta Pandas. If the 'Birds are able to win one game in the series, they'll earn a much coveted bye week as they enter the postseason, but of course, they're aiming for the sweep and top spot in the Canada West.
Manitoba will host Calgary in the final week of regular season play, with the aim of retaking second place.
IMAGE CREDIT: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds