CW Women's Hockey Final: T-Birds look to fend off pesky Pandas

CW Women's Hockey Final: T-Birds look to fend off pesky Pandas

Brian Swane, Special to Canada West

EDMONTON - The UBC Thunderbirds are trying to become just the second program to win the Canada West women's hockey title in consecutive seasons.

All that stands in their way is the only team that's done it.

The Alberta Pandas, who won three straight titles between 1998 and 2000 and seven in a row from 2002 to 2008, visit the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre this weekend to take on the reigning champions in the best-of-three final. The first two games are scheduled for Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. PT, while Game 3 if necessary goes Sunday at 3 p.m. PT.

"It's a pretty neat opportunity that we have in front of us to set some more history," UBC coach Graham Thomas says.

Losing just four times in regulation, the T-Birds perched atop the Canada West standings all season, and have been No. 1 in the U SPORTS Top 10 for 14 consecutive ranking periods dating back to October. They're the highest-scoring team in Canada West, and allowed the second fewest goals.

"They're a bit of a powerhouse," Alberta coach Howie Draper says. "They've got size, they've got speed, their goaltending is pretty good, and they've got some very strong offensive punch."

Alberta has won its last thirteen games, spanning the regular season and playoffs, a streak that has seen the team climb to a season high of sixth in the Top 10 rankings. The Pandas were the only team to give up fewer goals than UBC in Canada West, and potted the third-most goals.

"No question that that they're a really good team," says Thomas. "They're coached extremely well and they've just got a really good mix of young talent and seniors."

The teams have seemingly been on a collision course since their last meeting, at the beginning of January when they opened the season's second half with a pair of games in Vancouver. The Pandas came in having already lost twice to UBC, at Clare Drake Arena in October, and dropped the first game at UBC. But Alberta won the second, and hasn't lost since.

"To be able to split against them in the second half is a big confidence boost for our team if we were to end up seeing them again in the final," Draper says. "I really felt we competed in both of those games, where as I thought in the (games in) first half they held the play."

While Alberta swept a semifinal series against Manitoba last weekend in Edmonton, the T-Birds were pushed to three games by Saskatchewan.

"This conference ... is so competitive and anyone can win, so knowing that just gives us a little more sense of pride and accomplishment when you can get back (to the finals)," Thomas says. "You don't want to take it for granted because you never know when you're going to be back here again, so we're really excited that we get the chance."

The series can be seen in its entirety on CanadaWest.tv

UBC Thunderbirds


2016-17 CW regular season record: 20-4-3-1 (67 pts.), 1st

2016-17 record vs. Alberta: 3-1

 

Last conference championship / total conference championships: 2015-16 / 2

Last national championship / total national championships: 0

 

2016-17 CW regular season ranks:

Offence: 86 GF, 1st

Defence: 45 GA, 2nd

Power play: 19.3%, 2nd

Penalty kill: 89.1%, 3rd

 

2016-17 CW regular season leaders:

Goals: 12 - Nicole Saxvik, F

Assists: 19 - Cassandra Vilgrain, F

Points: 27 - Cassandra Vilgrain, F

Wins: 14 - Amelia Boughn

Shutouts: 4 - Amelia Boughn

 

Key performer:

Cassandra Vilgrain

Forward

4th-year

Calgary, Alta.

Vilgrain led the Thunderbirds offensively this season, and finished second in conference scoring behind Manitoba's Lauryn keen (34 points). The Calgary, Alta. native registered a pair of assists in UBC's tough three-game semifinal series win this past weekend against Saskatchewan.

The fourth-year vet registered six points in four games against Alberta this season, including two multi-point games.

 

Alberta Pandas

 

2016-17 CW regular season record: 17-4-4-3 (62 pts.), 2nd

2016-17 record vs. UBC: 1-3

 

Last conference championship / total conference championships: 2014-15 / 12

Last national championship / total national championships: 2009-10 / 7

 

2016-17 CW regular season ranks:

Offence: 74 GF, 3rd

Defence: 39 GA, 1st

Power play: 14.6%, 4th

Penalty kill: 86.3%, 4th

 

2016-17 CW regular season leaders:

Goals: 13 - Alex Poznikoff, F

Assists: 12 - Alex Poznikoff and Sasha Lutz, F

Points: 25 - Alex Poznikoff, F

Wins: 15 - Lindsey Post

Shutouts: 5 - Lindsey Post

 

Key performer:

Lindsey Post

Goalie

5th-year

Chelsea, Que.

Veteran netminder Lindsey Post is hoping to lead the Pandas back to the conference title after a one-year absence from the CW Final. A second team all-star this season, Post finished second in GAA (1.31) and third in SV% (.929) among full-time starters this year.