By Andrew Mitchell
Whistler hockey fans made the arena-less UBC Thunderbirds feel at home this past weekend as they took on the top-ranked Alberta Golden Bears in back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday. The bleachers were packed both nights and it was standing room only, with fans cheering on the underdog Thunderbirds every step of the way.
From the time the puck dropped on Friday, it was clear that UBC was not giving an inch to the Bears. They finished their hits, stole pucks at the blue line, and followed every attack with a counter-attack that kept the Bears on their heels. UBC goalie Francois Thuot picked up any slack in the T-birds defence, making save after save.
In the first period the Bears outshot the T-birds 14-7, but the score was an even 2-2. The Bears got on the board first on the power play with Dale Mahovsky’s first goal, but the Thunderbirds answered back less than a minute later on a well-played two on one, with Kevin Seibel pulling the trigger. Later in the period the T-birds were on a power play when Alberta’s Lee Zalasky scored short-handed on a breakaway. The UBC Thunderbirds didn’t dwell on it, and finished the same power play with the tying goal just over 20 seconds later.
The second period was scoreless, but the momentum was definitely on the side of the T-birds who managed to put twice as many shots on net as the Golden Bears.
Until the third period the game was fast-paced with only a few whistles. Things broke down a little in the last period, when the hits began to pile up and the end-to-end action started to take its toll. Players were called for trips, hooks and boarding, and the penalty boxes began to fill up.
The Bears went a goal ahead with Mahovsky’s second and looked to sit on their lead when penalty trouble created a five on three for the Thunderbirds which former Vancouver Giants player Mitch Bartley capitalized on to tie things at 3-3 with just over five minutes left to play.
The third period was followed by five minutes of scoreless overtime, followed by a shootout. Thuot was solid, stopping all three shots, while Stephane Gervais of the T-birds drilled one past Alberta goalie Aaron Sorochan. Gervais also scored the second goal of the game.
The goal ended two of the longest streaks in Canadian University Sports — the UBC Thunderbirds had not beaten the Alberta Golden Bears at home in 19 years, with a record of 0-35-4. It was also the first time in 41 games, home or away, that the ’Birds would beat the Bears.
“I thought it was a great game tonight,” said UBC head coach Milan Dragicevic. “It was fast-paced, there were over 80 shots and the fans here were really into it.”
For the Bears, losing two games in a row after splitting a two game series with Calgary the week before (their first loss to the Dinos in eight seasons), Saturday was all about redemption.
The Bears went up 2-0 in the first period with goals from Ben Kilgour and Ian McDonald, but the T-birds answered back in the closing minute while on the power play. Darrell May scored the goal with one second left in the period.
The second period was scoreless, with both goalies making huge saves and more end-to-end action.
Halfway through the third period the Bears’ Tyler Metcalfe potted the insurance goal, giving the T-birds a two-goal deficit to overcome. Despite their best efforts, Sorochan pulled out save after save to guarantee his team the win, 3-1.
In terms of records, UBC is now 3-3-0, while the Alberta Golden Bears are 4-2-0.
The UBC Thunderbirds are playing their home games on the road this year with their own rink currently being rebuilt for the 2010 Winter Games, which is why Whistler had the opportunity to host two regular season games.
The Whistler Minor Hockey League hosted a 50-50 draw and raffle, raising money for spinal cord research and minor hockey programs.