The UBC Thunderbirds varsity hockey team returns to Meadow Park arena on Sept. 21 to take on the University of Calgary Dinosaurs in an exhibition match-up to benefit the Whistler Minor Hockey Association.
Last year the T-birds battled the University of Alberta Golden Bears, the defending western conference champions, to a 1-1 tie with UBC rookie goalie Chris Levesque stopping 40 out of 41 shots. The arena was sold out for that game, and the players received a standing ovation from the crowd for what might have been the best game of hockey played in Whistler since Team Canada trained here for the 1996 World Cup.
"What happened is the players asked the coach if they could come here because they enjoyed it so much last year," said Kerry Dennehy, who is organizing the event for minor hockey. "Everybody loves coming to Whistler, they like playing in the arena here, and its a good chance for the team to bond on the road."
The WMHA provides the players with accommodation and meals with the money raised from ticket sales and other fundraising initiatives, and all the proceeds go to minor hockey.
"Honestly, we could probably make more money with a bottle drive, but this is a chance for the kids to sit in the stands at their arena and watch some former Junior players play some great hockey for the university teams," said Dennehy.
The games are fast and hard-hitting. Because there is no fighting allowed, the players concentrate on their games. According to Dennehy, teams adopt easily recognizable styles of hockey based on their strengths that year.
Some teams are traditionally defensive and recruit heavily for the blue-line, while others focus on speed, skill, and a run-and-gun style of play. Its not unusual to see all the players on their feet between shifts, waiting for their chance to jump the boards and get back on the nice.
The T-birds finished last season at the bottom of the Canada West Conference Mountain Division with just five wins and four ties in 28 games.
This year they are bent on turning things around, and recently announced the hiring of former Vancouver Giants coach Milan Dragicevic to replace the departed Mike Coflin.
A native of Croatia, Dragicevic played at the CIS level for four seasons, winning a national championship as a defenseman with the Acadia Axemen in 1993.
This year he has been recruiting heavily from his the champion Drayton Valley Thunder of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, where he was the general manager in 1997-98. He is also working to keep local talent at home.
"There are so many good hockey players just in the Lower Mainland and I want to convince them to come to UBC and stay for the long term," he told the Vancouver Sun.
The T-birds play their first exhibition on Sept. 11 verses the Vancouver Canucks prospects at UBC. They play in a Southern Alberta Institute of Technology tournament that weekend against SAIT and Mt. Royal College, and return to UBC for the first exhibition game against Calgary on Sept. 20.
The Dinosaurs roster has also yet to be finalized. Last year Scott Atkinson took over the reigns of the program, and took the team to the CIS championships with a solid record.
More information on the match-up will be included as the rosters for the 2002-03 season become available.
Tickets to the T-Birds vs. Dinos exhibition can be purchased in advance at Meadow Park Sports Centre or at the door. The cost is $20 for families, $10 for adults, and $5 for members of the WMHA and youth under the age of 16.
Between periods there will be draws and games, including a puck tossing contest, with proceeds also going to the WMHA.
Dennehy recommends picking up your tickets in advance, as it was standing room only for last years game and it could easily sell out again this year.
The game will start at approximately 6:45 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21.