Jeff Sargeant, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds (10-8-1) suffered their first overtime loss of the season as the No. 2 Alberta Golden Bears (15-3-1) scored with just 2.2 seconds remaining in double overtime on a 5-on-3 power play Friday night at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
After Austin Vetterl finished a beautiful passing play off the rush with less than seven minutes remaining in the third period to tie the game and two and eventually force overtime.
Despite just four combined power plays, two aside, through regulation, the 'Birds were put back on the man advantage early in the first overtime frame but were unable to convert. The Bears then had an overtime power play of their own which UBC killed off, but the T-Birds ended up down two men thanks to minor penalties called less than a minute apart in double overtime, setting up the Canada West's best power play which took full advantage. As the clock ticked down towards the buzzer, Brandon Magee fanned on a centring feed but the puck bounced to Stephane Legault who popped it home past a sprawling Rylan Toth to hand the T-Birds their first overtime loss of the season.
"Right from the opening faceoff the guys battled, they competed, they stuck to the game plan and took care of the little details, it was awesome," said UBC head coach Sven Butenschon who was very pleased with his team's effort Friday night. "It helps your belief that we can compete with these guys. We were controlling the play and forcing them to make plays under pressure, we created turnovers and hurried their defence."
The defending U SPORTS national champion Golden Bears dictated the pace of play in the first period and opened scoring as a result when Luke Philp deflected a Trevor Cox shot from the top of the left circle at the 8:25 mark.
But the 'Birds answered back with a pair of solid shifts in the offensive zone and got rewarded with a goal of their own just over three minutes later. Tyler Sandhu stripped Philp of the puck below the Alberta goal line and quickly fed it in front for Austin Glover who rifled in his second of the season to tie the game at one.
Nearly 20 full minutes went by until the Bears re-took their lead when Grayson Pawlenchuk's shot from high in the zone deflected off a T-Birds' defenceman and over Toth's shoulder. Magee and Graeme Craig picked up the helpers as the Bears hung onto their lead heading into the final frame.
The 'Birds played what might have been their best period of the season in the third, dominating puck possession and control while outshooting the Bears by an 11-7 margin. UBC got rewarded for their persistence and effort at the 13:22 mark when Vetterl tied the game with his team-leading eighth of the season. Raymond Grewal made a perfect stretch feed to Maxwell James who was waiting at the Alberta blue line. The big rookie winger then fed the puck across to Carter Popoff who made a beautiful backhanded saucer feed to Vetterl to tie the game at two, setting up the overtime dramatics.
UBC finished the game 0-for-3 on the power play while the Bears went 2-for-5. Zach Sawchenko picked up his 11th win in goal for Alberta with 23 saves. Toth was terrific for the 'Birds with 35 stops.
The T-Birds will have one last crack at the Bears Saturday afternoon when the two face each other for the final time this regular season in a game that will determine the season series after UBC split with Alberta in Edmonton back in October.
"If you want to be a great team you have to be able to do that every night so that's the challenge," added Butenschon. "It's such a short season and the league is so tight, it's about every day coming to practice, every time you suit up and put the jersey on you got to do whatever it takes and grind it out and try to win a hockey game."
Puck drop Saturday is 2:00 p.m. PT at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds