Jeff Sargeant/UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds are Canada West champions after a 1-0 win over the Alberta Pandas in Game 3 of the conference final Sunday afternoon at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
Cassandra Vilgrain scored the game's only goal in the second period while Amelia Boughn earned her second shutout of the playoffs making 16 saves as the T-Birds have now won back-to-back Canada West titles for the first time in team history.
UBC joins Alberta as the only programs to ever repeat as league champions. The Pandas won three in a row from 1997-2000, and then reeled off seven straight from 2001 to 2008.
"The heart of our team is just phenomenal," said an emotional UBC head coach Graham Thomas shortly after the championship banner was awarded.
"Our will to win is incredible and it's all about character and that starts with our leaders and our seniors. When their backs are against the wall they respond, I'm so proud of them."
Much like Game 2 Saturday night, the T-Birds pushed the pace almost from start to finish. UBC out-shot the Pandas 8-3 in the opening frame but couldn't beat Lindsey Post, who made a pair of remarkable saves in a frantic sequence midway through the period.
UBC got on the board at the 7:26 mark of the second when the Pandas gave up a rare 2-on-1. Logan Boyd carried the puck on the right-wing side and slid it across to Vilgrain who deflected it in for her first goal of the playoffs, one that will go down in history as the conference-winning marker. Celine Tardif picked up the second assist for her first point of the post-season.
The T-Birds nearly doubled their lead several minutes later with another odd-man rush but the puck bounced on Emily O'Neill who still got the shot away but Post was able to make the save. Vilgrain had another terrific chance late in the period but was denied her second of the game.
Boughn kept up her fantastic play from the first two games of the series and tracked the puck well all night making several amazing stops even with plenty of traffic in front of her.
UBC captain Stephanie Schaupmeyer was called for a double minor butt-ending penalty with just 10 seconds remaining in the second as the Pandas' red-hot power play went to work. With just a second remaining, Alex Poznikoff got to a bouncing puck between the hash marks in front of the Thunderbird net but flipped it over the crossbar. The 'Birds completed the penalty kill and Alberta finished the game 0-for-2 on the power play. UBC did not have a player-advantage all game for the only time all season.
The Pandas put Post on the bench for the extra attacker with 1:32 remaining in the third but the T-Birds didn't allow any pucks to get through to the net and held on for the team's third conference title in the last five seasons. Alberta remains the leader in Canada West women's hockey championships, with 12.
"This is almost indescribable," said Schaupmeyer who is one of eight graduating seniors for the T-Birds. "It's so exciting to set that standard for the program but to know that the girls coming in are going to hold that standard through and through. Graduating this year, these are the girls I want to leave the program with so I'm super happy for them."
"It's been amazing to see this program get turned around," said Thomas.
"We have such a phenomenal staff and support staff and people behind the scenes and we all share in this, it's such a team effort."
The Thunderbirds will enjoy their new banner but will soon get right back to work in preparation for a trip to the U SPORTS Women's Hockey Championship which begins Thursday, March 16 hosted by Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. Alberta will also represent the Canada West as the second seed out of out the league at the national tournament.
"I think something we were missing in the past was that experience at the national stage and now we have that so we're going to be all business when it comes to nationals," said Schaupmeyer.
"We got three more wins to go, we have to enjoy this, then re-group and get ready to go for a run at nationals," added Thomas.
IMAGE CREDIT: Ben Nelms/UBC Thunderbirds