Jeff Sargeant, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – In front of a new team record 5,500 fans, the UBC Thunderbirds (11-9-1) beat the visiting Lethbridge Pronghorns (8-11-2) 2-1 at the fourth annual Winter Classic on Friday night at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
It was an incredibly tight game throughout between two Canada West teams jockeying for playoff position, and fittingly remained tied at one heading into the third period.
The game winner came off the stick of Tyler Sandhu just 55 seconds into the final frame on a bit of a lucky bounce. Nick Bounassisi made a cross-ice pass to Sandhu who fired the puck wide of the goal before it bounced off the end boards and off Lethbridge goaltender Garret Hughson and into the net.
The Pronghorns pressed hard late in the period and nearly got the game-tying goal with 45 seconds left but Matt Hewitt made an incredible left pad save robbing Russell Maxwell to keep the 'Birds in front.
Hewitt finished with 26 saves for his ninth win of the season, UBC's third straight victory and fourth in the last five games to start 2018.
UBC had two power play chances in the opening frame but the Pronghorns did a good job of getting in front of pucks preventing the 'Birds' Canada West leading power play from getting on the board.
But with four minutes remaining in the first period, Michael Stenerson stole puck just outside the Pronghorns blue line, turned it back in, and fed it over to Austin Vetterl who made a drive to the net capped off by a beautiful backhand five-hole finish for his 12th of the season.
The Pronghorns were able to respond, however, before the period was out when Brooks Maxwell deflected a Mitchell Maxwell shot for his first of the season, tying the game at one through 20 minutes.
UBC finished 0-for-3 on the power play while the Pronghorns went 0-for-2. Shots were even at 27.
The win keeps pace with Mount Royal as both the Cougars and 'Birds have 23 points, tied for fourth in the conference. The Pronghorns have now lost three in a row, five points back in sixth.
The 'Birds and 'Horns play for the final time this regular season Saturday afternoon with a chance for UBC to complete the season series sweep. Puck drop at Doug Mitchell is 1:00 p.m. PT.
PHOTO: Bob Frid, UBC Thunderbirds