T-Birds clinch playoff berth in 5-0 win over Saskatchewan


Vancouver, BC – The UBC Thunderbirds scored five unanswered goals and were backed by a Matt Hewitt 22-save performance in a 5-0 rout of the Saskatchewan Huskies Saturday night. Thanks to Hewitt’s first career CIS shutout, the Thunderbirds clinch a playoff spot and have just one regulation loss in the new year, improving to 11-9-4 on the season.
“To bounce back after last night and turn things around was great for us tonight,” added Hewitt. “It was nice to get that first one [shutout] under my belt, and hope I can continue the strong play moving forward and continue to instill confidence in the team through good goaltending.”
The Thunderbirds scored a pair in the first thanks to Nick Buonassisi and Greg Fraser, both of who had a goal and an assist in the period, before the T-Birds doubled that lead in the second. Brad Hoban scored to make it a 3-0 game, just as was the case last night, before Joe Antilla got in on the fun snagging a birthday goal for good measure. Anthony Bardaro finished off the night with his fifth of the season to wrap up the game.
The win was Hewitt’s fifth victory of the season, setting a Canada West career best improving his record to 5-4-2 on the season. Saturday’s shutout was his first since December 13, 2012 when he was a member of the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.
Saturday night’s shutout was also UBC’s first regular season blanking since January 12, 2013. The Thunderbirds did record a shutout last season, but that occasion was in post season play against, coincidentally enough, against the Huskies.
Huskies goalie Jordon Cooke has been the victim of streaky play this season as the rookie goaltender has had losing streaks of three and four games on separate occasions this season. The former Kelowna Rocket and CHL Goaltender of the Year falls to 5-7-1 and had 32 saves on 37 shots in the losing effort, as he and Ryan Holfeld have split starts every weekend this season.
Buonassisi nabbed his second goal in as many nights to open the scoring Saturday evening, beating Cooke from the left faceoff circle on the team’s first shot of the game. Greg Fraser had his initial shot blocked, which opened the door for Buonassisi, who scored his ninth of the season at 2:34 of the first period. Cole Wilson grabbed the secondary assist on the play as the 2013 Canada West all-star has points in three of his last five games (4G, 3A).
In identical fashion, the Thunderbirds jumped out to a 2-0 just as they did a night earlier, thanks to Fraser who collected his second point of the night, and third point of the weekend with the tally. Fraser found himself with some space in the slot and beat Cooke high glove side on just UBC’s fifth shot of the game. Buonassisi grabbed the assist to snag his second point of the night helping the T-Birds take a 2-0 lead through 20 minutes.
Last night’s scoring trend continued into the second where UBC grabbed a 3-0 lead after Hoban’s shot ricocheted off a Huskies skate fooling Cooke. The unassisted tally came at 7:23 of the second period and was just the forward’s second goal of the season.  
Antilla celebrated his 24th birthday by scoring the Thunderbirds fourth goal, and second of the period, who was appropriately gifted with a juicy rebound after Wilson’s shot forced Cooke to expose the second chance opportunity. Neil Manning grabbed the secondary assist, and will represent Team Canada at the FISU Winter Universiade in Spain in a few weeks time.
The Huskies (10-13-1) had just 13 shots through two periods but had a great chance during an early power play in third with a loose puck in the crease, but Hewitt managed to cover up. Unable to convert, the T-Birds made it a five-goal game after weaving his way through half the Huskies team before sniping a wrister five-hole on Cooke at 8:48 of the third period.
The Huskies had four odd-man advantages in the third, but were denied on every occasion thanks to the play of UBC goaltender. Saskatchewan’s Chad Suer had the best chance after his point shot found its way through traffic forcing Hewitt to make a sprawling save to cover the loose puck. With that, UBC would hold on for the 5-0 win.
Saskatchewan’s Craig McCallum saw his 10-game point streak (9G, 7A) come to an end, as does his seven-game goal-scoring streak. Both UBC (0-for-5) and Saskatchewan (0-for-4) went scoreless on the power play, as well.
In regards to starting after Eric Williams had a strong stretch of play, Hewitt added, “Eric has come in here as a first year and played great and we push each other every day, as well as support each other regardless of who gets the call in net.”
Saturday’s game wraps up the season series as UBC finished the season 1-1-2 against the Huskies but there’s a chance the two could meet again in the first round of the Canada West playoffs, as was the case last season.
Up next for UBC is a home stand against the seventh place University of Regina Cougars while the Huskies will play the fifth place Manitoba Bisons next weekend, as four games remain on the Canada West schedule.