Jeff Sargeant, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds (13-9-1) outhustled the Saskatchewan Huskies (18-4-1) for a sixth straight win with a 5-1 victory over the third ranked team in the country Friday night at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
The 'Birds scored twice in each of the first two periods while getting yet another solid performance in net from Matt Hewitt who picked up his 11th win of the season as UBC clinched a post-season berth for the seventh consecutive year.
The Huskies outshot the T-Birds 41-18 but Hewitt's stellar play combined with a commitment to blocking shots and keeping quality chances to a minimum allowed UBC to improve to 6-1 in January while handing Saskatchewan just their fourth regulation loss all season.
The 'Birds struck on their first power play of the game to open scoring 9:02 into the first period. Adam Rossignol deflected a Josh Connolly shot from the blue line, Huskies goaltender Jordon Cooke made the save but kicked out the rebound to Nick Buonassisi who scored his fifth of the season.
UBC doubled their lead seven minutes later when Carter Popoff finished off a remarkable solo effort. The second-year forward dug the puck from the right wing boards, cut to the net, toe dragged the puck and fired it short side for his fifth of the season.
The T-Birds only kept the pedal down in the second with Matt Revel and Michael Stenerson trading feeds to each other to stake UBC to a 4-0 lead heading to the third.
Saskatchewan turned the puck over high in UBC's zone four minutes into the period and the two used their speed to put themselves on a 2-on-0 rush, finished off by Revel for his eighth of the season and third in the last two games. The rookie forward then returned the favour winning a puck battle along the boards before feeding it across the slot for Stenerson who scored his tenth with a backhand spin-o-rama.
The Huskies were finally able to get one by Hewitt on the power play with just over six minutes remaining in the third. Rookie defenceman Sam Ruopp hammered home his first Canada West goal from Connor Cox and Alex Forsberg.
Saskatchewan pulled Cooke for the extra attacker with more than two minutes remaining but Stenerson found the empty net for his second of the night with Austin Vetterl picking up the lone assist.
The 'Birds finished the night 1-for-3 on the man advantage while the Huskies went 1-for-6.
With the victory the T-Birds remain just a single point behind Manitoba for third in the conference while moving three points clear of fifth place Mount Royal.
UBC is now 6-1 in January and can make it six wins in a row with a victory in Saturday afternoon's rematch with the Huskies. Puck drop at Doug Mitchell is 2:00 p.m. PT.
PHOTO: Bob Frid, UBC Thunderbirds