Jeff Sargeant, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – Down 3-0 midway through the third period, UBC Thunderbirds captain Jerret Smith scored four times to lead the home squad to a 4-3 overtime win over the Lethbridge Pronghorns Saturday afternoon at Father Bauer Arena.
It was an incredible and unlikely comeback for the 'Birds who earned the weekend split and enter the holiday break on a tremendous high note.
Much like the night before, the Pronghorns were able to completely shut down UBC's defence while goaltender Garret Hughson was unbeatable. The 'Horns scored three times within a seven minute span in the second period to open up a 3-0 lead on a frustrated 'Birds team.
UBC generated a good number of scoring chances but a couple pucks found iron while others were shot wide while Hughson gobbled up the rest.
The T-Birds went to the power play for the third time in the game six minutes into the third after Lethbridge's Torrin White was called on a high stick. Late in that power play, a boarding call put UBC up 5-on-3 and it took all of nine seconds for the 'Birds to connect with Smith blasting a one-timer past Hughson to finally get on the board. Tyler Sandhu and Austin Vetterl picked up the helpers on the goal which gave the T-Birds some renewed life.
Still down by two with three minutes to go, Rylan Toth headed to the bench for the extra attacker and the early move paid off. Carter Popoff fed Smith up high and the T-Bird captain ripped home his second of the game and fourth of the season just under the bar and past Hughson to get UBC within one.
Moments later the 'Birds put Toth on the bench again and once more the move paid dividends. Austin Glover won a faceoff in the Pronghorns' zone right back to Smith who toe-dragged past a Lethbridge forward and wristed it into the back of the net to complete the natural hat trick and the comeback.
The 'Birds started overtime down 4-on-3 for a minute after a late penalty but Toth made two incredible saves, one of them right at the third period buzzer to keep UBC alive.
After completing the kill, Vetterl carried the puck through the neutral zone putting himself on a two-on-one with Smith. Vetterl hung onto the puck just long enough before dishing across to Smith who completed the comeback win with his fourth goal in 15 minutes.
"It was something special we witnessed today," said UBC head coach Sven Butenschon following the historic comeback. "Obviously it takes a team to win and everybody chipped in but (Smith) just found a way to beat that goalie who had played six periods of almost shutout hockey against us. For him to bury four like that was insane."
Toth finished the game with 24 saves in a terrific performance between the pipes for the 'Birds, picking up his seventh win of the season. Hughson stopped 27 pucks in the loss.
Vetterl ended up with three assists for his third multi-point game of the season.
Lethbridge seemed to have the game in complete control in the second frame after their three goals in quick succession. Spenser Jensen rifled the puck from the blue line past a screened Toth three minutes into the frame for his first of the season.
The 'Horns made it a three goal lead when Justin Valentino and Brooks Maxwell scored 1:13 apart to take command of the game by the 9:46 mark. That is until Smith decided to take things into his own hands.
"It sure makes the next three or four weeks a lot more enjoyable," added Butenschon. "It's proof that if you stick to the game plan and stay positive and you keep the bench together, anything's possible."
The win keeps the 'Birds in fourth place in the conference heading into the December break while the Pronghorns finish the weekend with three out of a possible four points and a five-point cushion over both Manitoba and Regina for sixth.
UBC is off from Canada West action until January 4 and 5, 2019 when they start the new year in Calgary against the Mount Royal Cougars. The Pronghorns host the Regina Cougars to start the unofficial second half of the season.
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds