'Birds score emotional 15th straight win for Laura Taylor

'Birds score emotional 15th straight win for Laura Taylor

Jeremy Laurie/UBC Thunderbirds

VANCOUVER -- Two of the hottest teams in Canada West faced off at Father Bauer Arena on Friday night, meaning that either the UBC Thunderbirds women's hockey team (13-1-2-0) or the Alberta Pandas (7-3-3-3) would have their win streak ended. The Pandas, who have been on a seven-game tear since early November, seemed like they might be capable of ending UBC's incredible 14-game win streak. However, thanks to a three-goal effort and success on the power play, the 'Birds were able to keep their historic run going with a 3-1 victory. 

The 'Birds netted a goal in each period, with Nicole SaxvikMadison Patrick and Cassandra Vilgrain finding twine. All three goals came during Alberta penalty kills. UBC's Amelia Boughn delivered a strong, 21-save performance, while Alberta's Lindsey Post made 23 stops. Abby Benning got the lone marker for the visitng Pandas. 

UBC head coach Graham Thomas was happy to see his team return to form after a lengthy Christmas break, and was particularly pleased with the success of his specialty teams units.

"We were really impressed coming against a team [also] on a hot streak. Our team did a really good job handling the emotions of the game...and I was really happy with the effort tonight," said Thomas. "Going into the break, our specialty teams was going really well. It's nice to [that] after the break we didn't lose any of that."

Friday night's Mental Health Awareness Game was dedicated to those who have battled and continue to fight the effects of mental illness. A pre-game ceremony honoured former Thunderbirds goaltender and UBC Medical student Laura Taylor. Taylor, who passed away in April, 2016 after battling with depression, hoped to see the stigma associated with mental illness addressed and eventually eliminated. In addition to Taylor's jersey (number 29) being retired on Friday, the evening also featured representatives from various mental health awareness groups, including Bell's Let's Talk. Taylor's parents, Tom and Susan, were present to partake in a ceremonial puck drop in honour of their daughter. 

Thomas was thankful to all the fans in attendance on Friday who were there to support the cause and the Thunderbirds team.

"A huge shout out to everyone who came out to suppport our team, and the Taylor family."

Saxvik recalled the important role Taylor played for the Thunderbirds team, and expressed how special tonight's win feels.

"I think everyone was fighting extra hard for [Taylor] tonight. Laura was the most genuine person I've ever met. [She was] definitely with us, giving a little extra push when times were getting tough," said Saxvik.

"She wanted to raise awareness for mental health, and I think that's...what we've done here tonight. It's huge for the UBC community, our team, and especially Laura. It makes us really proud."

A cautious, defensively minded opening frame on both ends of the ice left little room for quality scoring chances. Then, with just under 30 seconds left in the first, Saxvik slid the puck under Post's pads to give UBC 1-0 lead. Vilgrain picked up a helper on the play, her 15th of the season.

Alberta tied things up 36 seconds into the second period as Benning ripped the puck blocker side to beat Boughn.

Benning created a turnover at the half boards to Boughn's right before taking the puck into the slot for her shot.

UBC did not let the tying goal slow them down, as they continued to pressure the Pandas through the majority of the second. Once again on the power play, Kelly Murray found Madison Patrick who ripped the puck past Post at 10:33 to give the 'Birds a 2-1 lead.

Vilgrain potted UBC's third power play goal of the night midway through the third, leading her team to the 3-1 win.

The Pandas will have a shot at redemption tomorrow afternoon when the two teams face off once again at 4 p.m. (PT).

PHOTO CREDIT: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds