by Tim Huebsch (Sports Information Assistant)
February 23, 2014, VANCOUVER (ISN) – The UBC Thunderbirds men’s hockey team scored four power play goals to upset the Saskatchewan Huskies 6-4 in game 3 of their best-of-three Canada West quarter-final series on Sunday evening in Saskatoon.
Victoria native Brad Hoban had a hat trick while UBC goaltender Steven Stanford, playing in the same rink in which starred as a Saskatoon Blade, was brilliant stopping 57 shots as the Thunderbirds booked a trip to the Canada West semifinal, where they will face off against the No. 1-ranked Alberta Golden Bears.
Saskatchewan put 61 shots on Stanford, which is the most in a Canada West playoff game since at least 2006, but he managed to keep the Huskies to just four goals on the night and was instrumental in keeping the Thunderbirds season alive.
The Canada West scoring champion converted on the Huskies’ first two shots of the game as Derek Hulak scored his first of the playoffs 1:15 into the opening frame before beating Stanford 1:42 later to put the home team up 2-0. Zak Stebner assisted on the latter goal as Hulak emerged as the offensive force he’s been known for this season after two relatively quiet games to open up the first round of the Canada West playoffs.
With the two early goals, Hulak broke the previous Canada West playoff record for fastest two goals in a game, surpassing Levko Koper’s time of 2:08 set during last year’s playoff run with Alberta.
The Thunderbirds were in a hole early but would manage to cut the two-goal lead in half when Hoban converted on a power play opportunity off a feed from Ben Schmidt for his first of the playoffs.
Stebner would restore the Huskies’ two-goal advantage with four minutes remaining in the frame as he put his first of the playoffs, and second point on the night, past Stanford. The tensions were high Sunday evening as the two teams combined for 39 minutes of penalties in the first period alone including a game misconduc,t to defenceman Matthew Delahey for a check to the head. Delahey’s exit would end up being a huge blow to the Huskies on the back end.
UBC would capitalize on Delahey’s misconduct when Nick Buonassisi buried his second goal of the playoffs with 18 seconds remaining in the period to put the Thunderbirds back in the thick of it. The Thunderbirds would settle for a one-goal deficit entering the first intermission with the Huskies outshooting the visiting team by a 16-12 margin.
Whereas the Huskies got on the board early in the first, UBC returned the favour in the second when Hoban wired a power play equalizer, and second of the night, past Holfeld. Anthony Bardaro and Cole Wilson collected assists as the team’s first period power play carried over to the second.
Nate Fleming would give the Thunderbirds their first lead of the game at 4:32 of the second as the Thunderbirds again converted on the power play with his third of the series. Scott MacDonald and Matt Wray contributed assists on the play as all four UBC goals up to that point were scored on the man advantage.
Stanford stood on his head during the second period maintaining his team’s one-goal lead as the Huskies peppered the UBC goalie. Shots were 40-22 in favour of the Huskies through two periods of play, despite their penalty troubles.
With a period to go, and a berth in the Canada West semifinals on the line, both teams came out with guns ablazing with the trend of early markers being continued. Geordie Wudrick scored 57 seconds after the opening faceoff of the final frame to give the Thunderbirds a bit of insurance with a 5-3 score with Wilson collecting the assist, marking the team’s first even-strength goal of the game.
After four unanswered goals by the visiting team, the Huskies’ Jesse Ross would put Saskatchewan back on the board at 2:21 of the third with his first of the playoffs to reduce UBC’s advantage to 5-4. The Thunderbirds would rebound by killing off a 5-on-3 opportunity immediately following the goal from Ross.
Hoban, the former Swift Current Bronco, completed the hat trick with a clutch goal midway through the third to seal the victory for the Thunderbirds, who completed the upset over the third-seeded and No. 9-ranked Saskatchewan Huskies. Hoban leads all playoff scoring with three goals and three assists and has a two-point cushion over teammate Wudrick in the points department.
Game 3 was another rough affair as both teams combined for 55 minutes in penalties just shy of the 58 penalty minutes put up in game 1. The Thunderbirds handed the Huskies just their third and fourth home losses of the year, after Saskatchewan put up an 11-2-1 home record during the regular season.
UBC’s power play was in tune Sunday evening going 4-for-7 while the Huskies were 0-for-6, failing to convert on every power play opportunity in the first round, three-game series. Holfeld stopped 30 shots Sunday evening taking the loss.
The Thunderbirds advance to the Canada West semifinal for the first time since the 2008-2009 campaign and will face off against the No. 1 Alberta Golden Bears, who rattled off a 25-2-1 record during the regular season. UBC dropped all four decisions against Alberta during the regular season by a combined score of 20-10. Alberta got a bye through to the semifinal after winning the Canada West league and as a result has had two weeks off since their last regular season game, something the Thunderbirds look to take advantage of next weekend.
Game 1 of the UBC-Alberta semifinal series will take place at Edmonton’s Clare Drake Arena, named after the former Thunderbird great, on Friday, Feb. 28 at 6 p.m. Pacific. The teams will play again on Saturday, March 1 at 4 p.m. with a third game, if necessary, at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 2.
NOTE: UBC won the first game of the playoff series 5-0 while Saskatchewan won game 2 by a score of 5-2.