T-Birds earn crucial victory over Manitoba Bisons

T-Birds earn crucial victory over Manitoba Bisons

By Rachel Villari (UBC Sports Information Assistant)

VANCOUVER -- The No. 9-ranked University of British Columbia Thunderbirds women's hockey team defeated the visiting No. 8 University of Manitoba Bisons 4-3 in a riveting game at The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre on Friday night. With the victory, UBC (15-1-5-4) moves into second place in the Canada West, one point ahead of Manitoba (13-5-6-1) and three points behind league-leading Alberta.

The game was truly an exhibition of special teams, as UBC scored three out of their four goals on the power play. Manitoba boasts the Canada West's best penalty kill, with only nine goals against this season.

"That was our plan coming into the weekend," head coach Graham Thomas said after UBC's victory. "They're well coached, they're a hot team. We knew we'd have to find ways to drive traffic to the front of the net. We'd knew we'd have to fake and drag shots and find holes, and I think we did that tonight. We pressured the net hard."

The Bisons came out ready to play, scoring a mere two minutes into the game. The puck bounced off the boards behind UBC goaltender Danielle Dube where Bisons forward Tasmine Hemmingway was able to swat it in for their first tally of the night.

Battling back, the Thunderbirds took advantage of their second power play of the night to even the score. Just after Tatiana Rafter hopped the boards, she received a pass as she crossed the blue line and toe-dragged in front of the net, pulling Bisons goalie Rachel Dyck with her. She fired home UBC's first goal, the puck rattling around off the bars behind Dyck. After 20 minutes of play, the game was tied 1-1.

The second was UBC's turn to come out hot, as Rebecca Unrau gave the 'Birds the lead 53 seconds into the period. On the man-advantage again, rookie Logan Boyd won the draw and fed the puck to Unrau, who back-pedaled into the slot, slinging the snapshot past Dyck. 

After being held in check for the majority of the second, the Bisons leveled the score while Rafter was in the penalty box. Caitlin Fyten found herself with the puck in the high slot halfway through the period and wristed a quick one past Dube, glove-side. A minute later however, Emily O'Neill stole the lead back for the 'Birds, firing the puck in from the blue line off of a pass from Nikola Brown-John, her eighth assist of the season, giving UBC a 3-2 lead through two periods of play.

UBC entered the final period with 30 seconds remaining on their two-man advantage power play, but were unable to capitalize. Special teams bounced back on the next opportunity, though, when there was a scramble in front of the net off a Dyck rebound. Kathleen Cahoon found the puck first, passing to Boyd who fed the puck to Unrau for her second goal of the game and13th of the season. The goal was scored after Dyck stood on her head saving a barrage of rapid-fire shots from the Thunderbirds in a true display of athleticism.

The Bisons earned one back halfway through the final period as first-year point-producer Alanna Sharman scored off of a pass in front of the net from Alana Serhan. The goal was Sharman's 17th of the season. That is as close as the visitors would come as the 4-3 was the final.

Although the Bisons opened and closed the scoring, the Thunderbirds were able to take advantage of the power play, notching three out of their four goals with the man-advantage. UBC went 3-for-7 while Manitoba was 1-for-3.

"They're a good team," Thomas said. "And we matched their work ethic. We worked hard around the puck and that was crucial to the win. It wasn't a perfectly executed game, but we found a way to win, and that's what good teams do. Tomorrow we're going to have to focus on controlling the full 60 minutes."

The rematch tomorrow is set for 2 p.m. PT at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

IMAGE CREDIT: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds