Jeff Sargeant/UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds advanced to the Canada West Final with a 3-1 win over the Saskatchewan Huskies in Game 3 of their semifinal series Sunday afternoon at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver.
Yet another close game came down to the final moments with the Huskies down by one and continuing to press for overtime. Saskatchewan goaltender Cassidy Hendricks was sent to the bench for the extra attacker with just over two minutes remaining, but Amelia Boughn, who made 21 saves for the win, denied the Huskies with two brilliant stops.
With five seconds left, Nicole Saxvik hit the empty net to seal the game as the T-Birds will host the Alberta Pandas in next weekend's conference final. The win also earns UBC a berth into the U SPORTS national championship tournament in Kingston, Ont.
"I'm so proud of our girls," said UBC head coach Graham Thomas.
"We believed in our team and believed they would perform under pressure and gut it out."
Much like Game 2 Saturday, the first goal of the game came quite early only this time it was the T-Birds who opened scoring with Haneet Parhar's first of the playoffs. Kathleen Cahoon shot the puck on net while Hendricks made the save but the puck found its way toward the side of the crease where Parhar put it home from a sharp angle at the 4:20 mark. Logan Boyd picked up the second assist.
The T-Birds doubled their lead at the 12:37 mark when Kelly Murray shot the puck from high in the zone through traffic for her first of the playoffs which stood up as the eventual game winner. Mairead Bast picked up the lone assist in her first Canada West playoff appearance returning from injury.
The Huskies got on the board before the period was out cutting the lead to one. Alyssa Dobler, the game's third star, fired a low shot from the slot past a screened Boughn for her first of the post-season at 17:28 as UBC carried the 2-1 lead into the second period.
After equalling the total goal count from the series' first two games in just 20 minutes, the offence once again dried up in the second while the Huskies out shot the T-Birds 5-4 in the frame with the game still tight heading to the final period setting up the frantic finish.
"I give so much credit to the Huskies, they played us hard," said Thomas who had plenty of high praise for Saskatchewan's players and staff.
"That's going to get us ready for what we'll face in the final and in the nationals, that's the kind of hockey we need to play."
Hendricks made 18 saves in net for Saskatchewan, while her counterpart Boughn earned the game's first star with her second career post-season win.
Kori Herner, Kaitlin Willoughby, and Lauren Zary had four shots apiece to lead the Huskies.
UBC failed to score on two power play chances while the penalty kill was perfect for a third straight game going 6-for-6.
"Our penalty kill is a huge energy boost for our team, we take pride in it," said Murray, who earned the game's second star.
"We were all just so proud of how well our PK did overall and it felt great to be able to shut them down. The Huskies are a great team and have so many offensive threats."
Having secured first place and home ice advantage throughout the Canada West playoffs, the T-Birds will host the Alberta Pandas for the best-of-three conference final.
"It will be nice to host again like we did last year," said Murray.
"It's nice to play in your own barn in front of your own fans and follow your normal routine."
The Canada West final begins Friday, March 4 at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre with the 'Birds looking for back-to-back conference titles.
IMAGE CREDIT: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds