Jeff Sargeant, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds had their chances, but some bad bounces and a solid performance by Manitoba goaltender Byron Spriggs saw the Bisons earn a 2-0 win Friday night at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
Sean Christensen's late first period shorthanded tally stood up as the game winner while Spriggs made 22 saves as the 'Birds suffered a third straight shutout loss.
"Our guys are frustrated and squeezing their sticks a little bit but it's not the time for excuses," said UBC head coach Sven Butenschon. "We're at the end of the season and we're an older group so we just have to work our way out of it, it's just about finding a way to generate more scoring chances."
Hoping to put their January struggles behind them, the T-Birds (11-12-2) had a decent opening period including a pair of power play opportunities. But just inside the final minute of the frame, it was Christensen who stole the puck at his own blue line and raced up ice, roofing it over Rylan Toth's shoulder and into the net for his second of the season as the Bisons (6-17-2) took a 1-0 lead into the break.
A scoreless second period saw both teams denied by some excellent goaltending. Toth made a pair of show stopping saves in quick succession with four minutes left in the frame. The second-year netminder first stopped a Ryan Carlson in-tight wrister with his right pad. Toth then got to the rebound, stoning Jeremey Leipsic to keep the 'Birds within a goal heading to the third.
UBC had a tremendous opportunity to finally get on the board midway through the final period when Carlson was called for a double minor. But the 'Birds were unable to solve Spriggs, finishing the game 0-for-5 on the power play.
Toth headed to the bench with less than 90 seconds remaining, but had to return after a UBC goaltender interference call at the other end of the ice.
The Bisons ended up on a two-man advantage with just a minute remaining and Keaton Jameson was credited with his second of the season when the puck fortuitously deflected off a T-Bird defenceman's stick and past Toth, putting the game on ice with 46 seconds on the clock.
"Our guys played very hard tonight," said Manitoba head coach Mike Sirant. "It's been a challenging season for us this year but our guys have shown character and resiliency and we're still fighting for a playoff spot. We were solid in our defensive zone, we were aggressive in our defensive zone and did a good job in front of our net clearing pucks."
Spriggs' first shutout of the season earned the Bisons a third win in their last five games which keeps them alive for the final Canada West playoff berth, now four points behind the Lethbridge Pronghorns.
The Thunderbirds' loss extends their losing skid to three as UBC enters Saturday's final regular season home game three points back of fourth-place Mount Royal after the Cougars earned a single point in an overtime loss to the Saskatchewan Huskies Friday night.
Puck drop Saturday is set for 12:30 p.m. PT at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds