Jeremy Laurie (UBC Thunderbirds)
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds won their second Canada West women's hockey banner by recording a 2-1 victory over the Manitoba Bisons in Game 3 of the league championship series Sunday afternoon at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver.
Defenders Celine Tardif (Parksville, B.C.) and Kelly Murray (New Westminster, B.C.) were responsible for UBC's goals, while Danielle Dube (New Westminster, B.C.) made 21 stops in net for the T-Birds.
Dube, whose post-season performances between the pipes have been a large part of UBC's success, was grateful a recent injury didn't prevent her from achieving this milestone with her teammates.
"I'm just happy I'm able to play again….to be able to come back out and help the team win a championship is great," she said.
UBC head coach Graham Thomas expressed his appreciation for his team's hard work, dedication and ability to overcome adversity all season long.
"[I'm] just so proud of the group…[their] character, leadership and the challenges we went through this year," he said. "All the time and effort...that went into this paid off. [This is] truly an amazing experience."
Karissa Kirkup scored a late goal for Manitoba but the Bisons couldn't complete the comeback at the end of their third consecutive road playoff series. Manitoba goaltender Amanda Schubert logged 19 saves in a losing cause.
The Bisons outshot the hosts 12-3 in the first period, however, a rejuvenated Thunderbirds offence in the final 40 minutes helped the 'Birds earn the victory and the league's only berth to the CIS Women's Hockey Championship March 17-20 in Calgary.
The Thunderbirds stuck early, with Tardif netting the game's opening goal just three minutes into the first frame. She took a pass at the left point, skated towards the middle of the ice and fired a wrist shot through traffic and past Amanda Schubert. Melissa Goodwin (Burlington, Ont.) and Haneet Parhar (West Vancouver) picked up assists on the play.
The Bisons spent the final three minutes of the opening period on the offensive. Several pass interceptions and solid fore-checking gave the team momentum but Dube stood tall amidst the attack.
Manitoba's best chance came when a fortunate bounce deflected out front to Alanna Sharman, who stood alone in front of UBC's net, but Dube snatched her backhand out of midair.
Precision passing from the Bisons during a power play opportunity halfway through the second nearly tied things up, but a series of fearless blocks from UBC's penalty killing unit denied that from happening.
At 5:30 in the second, Hannah Clayton-Carroll (Vancouver) took off down the left wing all alone and nearly sniped a wrister top-shelf. Her attempt was stopped by Schubert, but she was able to draw a hooking penalty on the play.
With a second Bison's penalty being served immediately after, UBC spent nearly four consecutive minutes with a player-advantage. While the 'Birds maintained possession throughout, they weren't able to generate any meaningful chances thanks to a solid Manitoba defence.
UBC eventually found success on the power play when, at 4:50 of the third, Rebecca Unrau (Humboldt, Sask.) fed a pass to Murray, who unleashed a one timer from the blue line directly into the lower left corner of the Bisons net.
The goal sparked an offensive surge from UBC. At 9:12, Nicole Saxvik (North Vancouver) found herself in the Bisons zone on a breakaway. However, Schubert was able to track Saxvik's dekes and made the save on the T-Bird forward.
UBC took a late penalty at 17:48, giving the Manitoba coaching staff an opportunity to pull Schubert for a 6-on-4 advantage.
It didn't take long for the Bisons to strike. Just 15 seconds into the power play, after a series of passes between Kirkup in the faceoff circle and Venla Hovi at the point, Kirkup unloaded a wrister from inside the circle.
Dube stretched to make the toe save, but the puck nicked the left post and deflected in, getting the Bisons on the board with less than two minutes remaining.
Schubert stayed out of the Manitoba net but the Bisons didn't get another prime scoring chance as UBC was able to keep the puck to the perimeter and in scrums along the boards before the final horn started the celebration for the home team.
It is UBC's second Canada West championship in four seasons, after claiming the league's top prize in 2013.
IMAGE CREDIT: Wilson Wong/UBC Thunderbirds