Brian Swane, Special to Canada West
EDMONTON - The Canada West champion UBC Thunderbirds and runners-up Alberta Pandas are headed east for the 2017 U SPORTS Women’s Hockey Championship, looking to hoist the Golden Path Trophy and make their conference proud.
Queen’s University is hosting nationals on the Goodyear Rink at the Strathcona Paper Centre in Napanee, Ont. Competition begins Thursday and Friday with the quarter-final round, followed by semifinals on Saturday, leading to Sunday’s championship game to determine Canada’s best.
“We are excited to represent Canada West,” says UBC bench boss Graham Thomas, whose team is headed to nationals for a second consecutive year. “It’s always an honour; we feel it’s such a strong conference.”
UBC and the Pandas are ranked first and fifth, respectively, in the U SPORTS Top 10. Each suffered only four regulation time losses in 28 games during the regular season. The best-of-three Canada West Final, staged in Vancouver at the beginning of the month, went the distance with the host T-Birds winning the decisive Game 3 1-0 in a contest that was every bit as tight as the score suggests.
“Every time you play a game like that, you get a little bit stronger in some capacity, so we’re optimistic that our players will be better for the experience and hopefully perform at a higher level and a more consistent level when we get to nationals,” says veteran Pandas coach Howie Draper.
UBC has now won the Canada West title three times in the last five years, including 2012 and 2016, and joins Alberta as the only other school in conference history to win consecutive women’s hockey championships.
“We’re really proud of our group and it’s definitely something that we’re going to cherish for a while,” Thomas says. “That was a big championship for us and to do it back-to-back against Alberta, who is the only who’s done it, was really special for me.”
UBC now looks to claim gold for the first time at nationals, while the Pandas have celebrated with the Golden Path seven times, the most of any team in the country. Since the inaugural U SPORTS championship in 1998, Canada West and RSEQ teams have each won a combined eight championships.
The T-Birds and Pandas would love nothing more than to assure that tie is broken by each reaching Sunday’s final.
“I’d love to be able to play them again,” Draper says. “I think that would be great or our team, it would be great for UBC and great for our conference. But we’ll have to win a few games in order to get that opportunity.”
Every game of the U SPORTS Women's Hockey Championship can be seen live on OUA.tv
No. 1 UBC Thunderbirds
QF vs No. 8 Queen’s at 7 p.m. ET (4 p.m. PT) Thurs., March 16
Regular season: 20-4-3-1, 1st in CW
Playoffs: defeated Saskatchewan 2-1 in semifinal, defeated Alberta 2-1 in final
National championships: none
Stats leaders: Nicole Saxvik (12 goals), Cassandra Vilgrain (19 assists), Vilgrain (27 points), Amelia Boughn (14 wins)
Canada West awards: Vilgrain (First Team All-Star), Kelly Murray (First Team All-Star), Tory Micklash (All-Rookie Team), Maireed Bast (All-Rookie Team)
No. 6 Alberta Pandas
QF vs No. 3 Saint Mary’s at 11 a.m. ET (9 a.m. MT) Fri., March 17
Regular season: 17-4-4-3, 2nd in CW
Playoffs: defeated Manitoba 2-0 in semifinal, lost to UBC 2-1 in final
National championships: 7 (2000, 2002-2004, 2006-2007, 2010)
Stats leaders: Alex Poznikoff (13 goals), Poznikoff/Sasha Lutz (12 assists), Poznikoff (25 points), Lindsey Post (15 wins)
Canada West awards: Kennedy Ganser (Rookie of the Year, All-Rookie Team), Poznikoff (First Team All-Star), Post (Second Team All-Star), Megan Eady (Second Team All-Star), Taylor Kezama (All-Rookie Team)