T-Birds look to continue historic run

Title: T-Birds look to continue historic run
Date: February 22, 2013
Original Source: UBC Thunderbirds
Synopsis: Weekend preview as UBC women’s hockey headed to Alberta for a best-of-three semi-final series.

VANCOUVER – At this point in the year, every weekend comes with a reset button at the end of it.

At least, that’s the mantra that the UBC Thunderbirds are living by these days. Coming off the most successful season in program history, a year that marked the greatest single-season turnaround in CIS women’s hockey history, UBC has had to consistently adjust their goals upward. A goal of the playoffs became a home-ice series, which has now become, dare they say it, Nationals.

A win this weekend in the Canada West semi-finals against the Regina Cougars would send the Thunderbirds to Toronto for Nationals in a few weeks, after a bout against Calgary or Alberta. Both teams that make the Canada West finals receive berths to Nationals.

But the Thunderbirds have done well to keep their focus just one weekend in front of them. The Cougars, who finished 18-7-2, represent a difficult challenge for UBC, a relatively even match whom UBC beat just once in four tries this season. However, since the two teams last met on Dec. 1, the Thunderbirds have gone 12-1-1, including their current nine-game winning streak. The season series is one of many reasons for UBC to look forward to the game, with Regina representing yet another proving ground.

“When we did play them, we were pretty banged up and didn’t have a full line-up,” said head coach Graham Thomas. “We’re looking forward to it. We’re really excited about getting another opportunity to play them. We’re a different team now. We’re playing better, operating a better team system, and we’re ready for the challenge.”

UBC will be led by the Canada West Athlete of the Week in goaltender Danielle Dube(Vancouver, BC), who stopped 54 of 57 shots in UBC’s two-game sweep of Manitoba this past weekend. In the regular season, Dube split time with Samantha Langford (Pense, SK), with both girls placing in the top-four in conference save percentage and goals against average. Despite Dube’s success against the Bisons, the team was noncommittal on playing time for the Regina series.

“She played this weekend,” said Thomas. “And she played really well. But Langford played well all year, too, and we’re comfortable using both. We’ll decide a day at a time.”

Interestingly, Regina also employs two goaltenders regularly in Toni Ross and Jennifer Schmidt. While neither goalie had quite the numbers of the UBC duo, Regina as a team was decent overall on the defensive end, finishing fourth in goals against.

“They have good goaltending,” said Thomas of facing a taste of his own medicine. “Like us they have two capable goaltenders and we have to be ready for both and prepare for both.”

A large part of the preparation for the series will also focus on special teams play. Regina ranked third in power play and penalty kill, narrowly trailing the Thunderbirds in each category. Against Manitoba, UBC went 2-for-9 on the power play and killed 11 penalties successfully. The issue, perhaps, is that UBC was shorthanded 11 times, more than their regular season average of 4.4 times per game. Discipline is a key part of any penalty killing unit, keeping opponents out of sync on the man-advantage and keeping checkers fresh. In addition, the bye may have provided the Cougars with time to work on new special teams strategies.

“They’ve had some time off now,” said Thomas. “They could have adjusted their game plan and style. We have to be ready to adapt, and that’s something we’ve been good at doing all year.”

One such adaptation may come in the units themselves. The Thunderbirds are still unsure if they’ll have the services of Rebeca Unrau (Humboldt, SK), who had a team-high nine power play points in the regular season but remains questionable with an upper-body injury suffered on Friday night. With or without their top scorer, the Thunderbirds have to be ready to play their best hockey yet.

“We’ve had a great year but it’s all behind us,” said Thomas. “This is our most important weekend of the year. We know what’s at stake.”

The best-of-three series kicks off on Friday and Saturday at 5 p.m. and wraps up on Sunday at 1 p.m. if a third game is necessary. The games will be broadcast on CiTR-FM and CanadaWest.tv.

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