Jeff Sargeant, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – A quick start and a frenzied finish led to a third straight win for the UBC Thunderbirds to start the 2018-19 Canada West season as they dispatched the visiting Mount Royal Cougars 3-1 in the 'Birds' home opener Friday night in front of more than 1,000 fans at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
It took fourth-year forward Austin Vetterl all of 40 seconds to open scoring in front of the raucous crowd and later the veteran put the game on ice hitting the empty net with a minute remaining in the third.
Rylan Toth made 35 saves for his second win of the season in what was perhaps his best performance to date as a Thunderbird.
Now at 3-0, UBC remains the only undefeated team in the Canada West for their best start to a season since 2015-16.
"There were a lot of penalties, a lot of penalty kills, but the kill was outstanding," said UBC head coach Sven Butenschon who was happy with not only the end result but how his team got there. "We put together a game plan and the guys executed, they blocked shots, it was just a real gutsy performance."
Making his Thunderbirds debut Friday night, Steven Hodges made his presence known on his very first shift, helping set up Vetterl's first of the game less than a minute in. Hodges carried the puck into the Cougars' zone down the right wing side and found Michael Stenerson with a perfect cross-ice pass. Stenerson then fed the puck to Vetterl who deflected it past MRU goaltender Colin Cooper.
The early goal may have seemed like a sign of things to come but the game remained 1-0 in favour of the T-Birds until the 5:53 mark of the third when the Cougars tied things up. Chrisopher Gerrie fed the puck across the low slot to Joshua Bly whose first shot was denied by Toth's outstretched left pad, but the second-year forward popped home his own rebound.
The final frame was marred by penalties with the T-Birds heading to the box a total of five times but it was on their final power play chance of the game that UBC restored their lead. Carter Popoff passed the puck from just below the right faceoff circle to a waiting Colton Kehler who blasted a one-timer past Cooper for his first goal in blue and gold which stood up as the eventual game winner.
UBC finished the game 1-for-4 on the man advantage. The 'Birds' penalty kill was tremendous on this night going a perfect 7-for-7 including a full two-minute five-on-three Cougars advantage to start the third period.
The loss is the first on the season for the Cougars who will aim for the weekend split Saturday. The 'Birds will try for their first 4-0 start to the season in the Sven Butenschon era.
"We don't like to look too far in advance, we just want to focus on the next game," added Butenschon. "We're not going to be happy with the split so we don't really care what's happening around the league, we're starting to prepare for tomorrow."
Puck drop at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre is set for 2:00 p.m. PT.
PHOTO: Bob Frid/UBC Thunderbirds