VANCOUVER – In front of a school record-breaking crowd of 3,049, the UBC Thunderbirds gave up a three-goal lead in the third period to fall 4-3 to Saskatchewan in double overtime. Craig McCallum played villain as the Huskies forward scored twice including the game winner at 3:24 of double overtime, which brought a halt to the Thunderbirds three-game winning streak.
The game was quite the rollercoaster ride as the Thunderbirds were staked to a 3-0 in the third period, before the Huskies cut the deficit with two goals in the span of 33 seconds. The Huskies would complete the comeback and force the game into overtime where McCallum snuck one past Eric Williams a period later.
“It was a great feeling to start the game having this many people out,” added Nick Buonassisi, who got the crowd into it early with the game’s first goal. “In the latter stages we let the nerves get the better of us and took a couple of penalties we shouldn’t have but we came away with a point, and have been playing some great hockey of late.”
Buonassisi scored a highlight reel goal to open the scoring before Luke Lockhart and David Robinson got in on the action, the latter collecting his first career CIS goal. The three UBC goals were erased thanks to a trio of unanswered goals by the Huskies off the sticks of McCallum, Jesse Ross, and Connor Cox, all of which came in the third period.
Saskatchewan improves to 10-12-1 and maintains their cushion over the Regina Cougars (who also won Friday) for the sixth and final playoff position. The Thunderbirds fall to 10-9-4 but with the single point tonight, maintain fourth place, which if they can hang on to would result in home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Williams, who got the nod for the T-Birds, had a shutout going until the 8:46 mark of the third period and was handed just his second loss of 2015. Ryan Holfeld looked shaky early on after leading the Huskies onto the ice but stole the win in front of the UBC crowd, which eclipsed the old regular-season attendance record of 1,012 people.
The Huskies’ win also signified a milestone for Saskatchewan bench boss Dave Adolph, who collected his 378th career win this evening. Adolph now sets the CIS and Canada West record surpassing legendary Alberta head coach and former Thunderbirds player Clare Drake, who won 377 conference games. Adolph also holds the record for most games coached in the CIS at 722.
“There’s only one Clare Drake,” added Adolph. “In my mind, he’s responsible for the success of CIS men and women’s hockey. I’ve been fortunate to have coached for a long time and although records are meant to be broken, Clare Drake remains in a league of his own.”
The hometown fans were treated to a gem Friday and luckily were on hand for an absolute beauty in the first period. With no time left on the clock, Nick Buonassisi cut into the middle on a partial break, and undressed Holfeld dragging the puck one-handed back to his right as he moved left, a move made notorious by NHLer Jussi Jokinen. With that, the Huskies escaped the first down 1-0, outshot by a 12-5 margin.
“I was able to build up some speed and saw their defencemen stutter-step and was lucky enough to slide it through since Holfeld was moving the opposite way,” described Buonassisi.
UBC doubled their lead at 12:53 of the second when Jessi Hilton and Lockhart found themselves on a 2-on-1, as Lockhart buried the Hilton feed past a sprawling Holfeld. Holfeld did all he could to stop the puck but it trickled past him as UBC made the Huskies pay for their missed chance minutes earlier.
UBC made it 3-0 when Robinson wired a shot at 6:51 of the third that went bar down on Holfeld, followed by some dispute over whether the goal actually crossed the line. It was Robinson’s first career CIS goal in his 48th game (regular season), a stretch that has spanned four years as Robinson took an extended break after the 2011-2012 season with Calgary.
Just as the Thunderbirds looked to be in the clear, the Huskies clawed their way back into the game thanks to a pair of goals just half a minute apart. McCallum extended his point streak to 10 games with his team-leading 10th (followed by his 11th) of the year before Ross converted on a wrister from the hash marks.
The comeback was completed thanks to the defenseman Cox who wired a bullet from the slot to silence the Thunderbirds crowd. The first overtime solved nothing, but McCallum made sure the game would end before a shootout as the forward has been on fire of late. Including tonight’s game winner, he has at least a goal in seven straight (eight goals) and 16 points in his last 10 games.
“I think a few missed chances from UBC in the second allowed us the opportunity to comeback in the third,” noted Adolph. “Those two points were huge, we have a young team and to get this win is great for our character.”
Saskatchewan was 1-for-5 on the power play, while UBC was 0-for-4 as Holfeld finished with 30 saves on 33 shots versus Williams’ 22 saves on 26 shots.
A 7 p.m. repeat will close out the weekend series tomorrow night at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.