By Andrew Mitchell
The homeless UBC Thunderbirds have taken their game on the road
this year, playing at different arenas around the Lower Mainland as their own
ice surface is renovated for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
On Oct. 20 and 21 their schedule brings them up to Whistler to
host the University of Alberta Golden Bears, one of the top varsity programs in
the country for the past decade. The Bears have won the past two University Cup
national championships, but have lost several key players.
The T-Birds have played in Whistler in the past, but have not
hosted a game at Meadow Park for the past two winters.
The team is currently 1-1 after playing a double-header against
the University of Calgary Dinos. The T-Birds will play Lethbridge and the
University of Saskatchewan before heading up to Whistler.
“Alberta has definitely been a powerhouse the last few years,
and they’re the defending champions so people can expect to see some pretty
good hockey,” said Marc Weber, UBC sports information director.
According to Weber it’s been tough not having an arena to
practice or play in, but the team is adjusting.
“It’s short-term pain for some long-term gain, is how we like
to put it. We’ll be getting the Olympic arena for 2008, which is going to be
tremendous for the program, but it is a little difficult in the short term,” he
said. “Even practices are difficult with all the guys being full time students,
but we’re making it work.”
Part of the reason for coming to Whistler is the fact that it’s
even harder to find ice time in the Lower Mainland with UBC’s arena closed, but
Weber says the team has always tried to move around to showcase the hockey
program and has enjoyed coming to Whistler in the past.
“It’s obviously a great place for the players to be, and for
some of the new guys that are from outside of B.C. it’s a chance to see a bit
of the province as well,” said Weber.
Thunderbirds coach Milan Dragicevic has been working the last
few seasons to put together a team that can be a contender in the tough Canada
West playoffs and make the nationals. He feels that he is close, as the team
posted its best record in 16 seasons in 2005-06.
This year’s team is a lot tougher and more talented, adding
players like former Vancouver Giant Mitch Bartley, and WHL players Matt
Schneider and Jeff Lynch to the forwards. As well, the team has 15 returning
players from last year.
Tickets to the games are $5 for adults, and $10 for families, with pucks dropping at 7:30 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday. The Whistler Minor Hockey Association and Whistler Skating Club have been invited to help out, and use the event to raise funds.