‘Birds Look To Extend Record Setting Season Into The Playoffs

Title: ‘Birds Look To Extend Record Setting Season Into The Playoffs
Date: February 14, 2013
Original Source: UBC Thunderbirds
Synopsis: Weekend preview as UBC women’s hockey was set to host a playoff series for the first time ever.

The greatest regular season turnaround in CIS women’s hockey history is complete. Turning a 1-21-2 record into a 17-7-4 record in a single year’s time is incredibly impressive.

But a season full of new program records and franchise firsts for the UBC Thunderbirds has at least one accomplishment remaining: win a playoff series.

It’s something the Thunderbirds have never done, and they’re hoping it’s the next item to fall on their long 2012-13 checklist. They more than doubled the previous program record for wins in a season and will also be hosting a playoff series for the first time, having earned the third seed in the Canada West conference.

The team standing in the way is the sixth-seed Manitoba Bisons, who finished 10-12-6. The best-of-three series kicks off Friday night at Father David Bauer Arena.

The Thunderbirds and Bisons met four times this season, with UBC emerging victorious on three occasions. Manitoba managed four points, though, as two games required extra time. The teams are familiar and are evenly matched, with only one of their meetings being decided by more than a single goal.

“They battle and they’re going to come hard at us,” said head coach Graham Thomas. “From the first drop of the puck until the last whistle. That’s their game.”

The teams come into the weekend on divergent paths, with Manitoba having lost four straight games and seven of their last eight. Meanwhile, the Thunderbirds won 10 of their last 11 games, with their only defeat coming in a shootout. Even though UBC missed out on the second seed and a first-round bye by just a single point, the team is pleased with their standing, happy not to lose any momentum with a weekend off.

Despite the regular season success, the Thunderbirds are adamant that the wins and accolades haven’t changed their approach or style.

“If it’s not broken,” said Thomas. “Don’t fix it. The message isn’t changing. We can be proud of what we’ve done, but right now it doesn’t mean anything. It’s a whole new season.”

If the playoffs are anything like the regular season, Manitoba can expect to run into some hot goaltending. UBC allowed the third fewest goals in the conference at just 2.25 per game and have two goaltenders in the top-four in goals against average and save percentage. Danielle Dube (Vancouver, BC) and Samantha Langford (Pense, SK) form a dynamic duo that affords UBC a strong strategic and on-ice advantage. Given that the goalies play appreciably different styles, it can be tough for opposing teams to game plan against the Thunderbirds.

“We have two great goalies,” said Thomas. “We’re just as confident in either goalie. We’re going to take the decision one day at a time, and that’s the truth.”

The strong goaltending and effort-first attitude of the team have also lifted UBC’s penalty kill to new heights. They ranked second in the regular season with an 87.1% success rate and their power play was the top unit in the conference at 17.8%, as well. Manitoba, meanwhile, was in the bottom half on both sides of special teams.

Even still, the Bisons present a strong challenge. Their physical style can be tough to handle over a full weekend and they mix in some talented skill players as well. Nellie Minshull finished sixth in the conference with 27 points, while teammates Kyleigh Palmer and Meagan Vestby also cracked the top-20. Palmer was tied for the most points among defencemen, and teammate Caitlin MacDonald was right behind her in third.

UBC utilizes a more balanced scoring attack, with Tatiana Rafter (Winnipeg, MB) leading the way with 23 points. Rebecca Unrau (Humboldt, SK) was also in the top-15 with 22 points. On the blue-line, Sarah Casorso (Kelowna, BC) set a team record for defencemen with 15 points, followed closely by Christi Capozzi (Kelowna, BC) with 13. The Thunderbirds also got strong contributions from a pair of freshmen in Stephanie Schaupmeyer (Kelowna, BC) andNicole Saxvik (North Vancouver, BC), who both ranked in the top-five in rookie scoring.

For the Thunderbirds, the key will be avoiding flat periods, a problem that has come up a handful of times this year. With Manitoba playing an intense and physical style, UBC will need to remain focused 60 minutes at a time. And given how their previous meetings turned out, they may need to focus for more than 60 minutes.

“We’re going to try and match their intensity,” said Thomas. “We feel if we can bring that same level of compete, our skill and momentum will win out.”

The puck drops on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. if necessary. The games will take place in the smaller and louder Father David Bauer Arena, potentially providing UBC a boost with a raucous home crowd. The games will also be broadcast on CiTR and CanadaWest.tv.

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