Jeff Sargeant, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – Tyler Sandhu scored twice while Rylan Toth was spectacular in net as the UBC Thunderbirds staved off elimination with a 3-1 win Saturday night over the Mount Royal Cougars at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre to force a third and deciding game in the best-of-three Canada West quarter-final series.
After the Cougars scored on their first shot of the game, Toth made 27 straight saves for the win as the two Canada West rivals will battle it out Sunday night with the winner heading to Saskatoon next weekend to battle the first-place Huskies in a semifinal.
"Right off the start it was a different vibe," said UBC head coach Sven Butenschon who was impressed with his team's response with their backs against the wall. "Right from the opening face off we were crisp, we were physical, we knew our assignments. I thought it was a test of character to have a really good start, give up a goal on the first shot, but to keep mental composure. It was just a real feather in their cap for those guys and hopefully they can grow from that."
The 'Birds started the game with about as good a shift as possible, drawing a power play just 15 seconds in. But it was the Cougars who opened scoring less than a minute later when Zack Henry blasted the puck shorthanded past Toth to sap the early UBC momentum.
It was a consistent parade to the box in the opening 20 minutes which saw the Cougars earn four power plays, including a 5-on-3 lasting more than 1:40. But the T-Bird penalty kill was solid, preventing MRU from scoring on the man advantage despite six chances over the course of the game.
After going 0-for-2 in the first, the 'Birds got on the board on their third power play of the game 6:19 into the second thanks to Sandhu's first of the night. Colton Kehler fed the puck along the left wing boards to Adam Rossignol who passed it across the slot to Sandhu. The second-year forward then perfectly wristed the puck over Riley Morris' shoulder and just under the bar for his second of the playoffs.
Sandhu gave the 'Birds their first lead of the series with five minutes remaining in the frame with another snipe just under the bar. Kehler picked up his second assist of the night on what turned out to be the game winner.
The T-Birds continued to hold the edge in play in the third but still managed to out-chance and outshoot the Cougars. MRU did turn on the pressure late in the frame and they finally got Morris to the bench with exactly one minute remaining for the extra attacker.
With just eight seconds on the clock, Carter Popoff blocked a shot as the puck bounced to the boards where Austin Vetterl collected it and fired it the length of the ice, straight into the empty net.
The 'Birds finished 1-for-4 on the power play for the second straight game while outshooting the Cougars 29-28.
To a man, the T-Birds played one of their strongest defensive games of the season in what was an impressive rebound performance.
For the second straight year, the 'Birds see their quarter-final go the distance, looking to book their tickets to Saskatoon.
"I'm sure (MRU is) trying to forget that game as fast as we tried to forget last night," added Butenschon. "It's going to be a new game tomorrow, a new day, it's going to be a real interesting game with two really evenly matched teams so we're looking forward to the challenge."
Puck drop for the series deciding game Sunday is 6:00 p.m. PT at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds