Vancouver, BC – Heading into the final weekend of the Canada West regular season, the UBC Thunderbirds men’s hockey program has a chance to do something they haven’t done since 1971, host a playoff game.
The scenario is simple for the Thunderbirds (12-9-5), win both games this weekend against Lethbridge and they will finish in the top four and host a playoff series.
UBC head coach Tyler Kuntz wasn’t even born the last time the Thunderbirds hosted a playoff game, however he isn’t using that as motivation for his team this weekend.
“We haven’t discussed it very much with our guys,” said Kuntz. ” It’s obviously within our grasp but I think it’s key to stay focused on Lethbridge. They will be ready for us and will be a good test. We just need to take care of our game and not worry about anything else. What’s happened here in the past has no relevance to what’s happening to us now.”
Because the Canada West makes up the men’s hockey team for the 2015 Winter Universiade games in Spain next month, this week’s series will take place Thursday and Friday night instead of the usual Friday-Saturday so the team can make the long trip to Europe on the weekend. Canada West play will resume with the playoffs following a three week break once the games are over and the team returns home. UBC’s Neil Manning is the lone Thunderbird on this year’s team.
The opportunity to host a playoff series is a direct result of the Thunderbirds play down the stretch. UBC is 6-1-2 in its last nine games and Kuntz credits four key reasons for his team’s stellar play.
“First and foremost we have done a much better job of checking the puck, secondly we’ve been able to play at a fairly high pace more consistently, thirdly, everyone has been chipping in offensively, and finally we have gotten great goaltending.”
Mired in a six-game losing streak, the Pronghorns (4-22-0) sit in last place in the Canada West and will miss out on the playoffs. Mitch Maxwell is the lone Pronghorns player to be named to the Universiade team that will competing in Spain. Maxwell is currently tied for third on the ‘Horns with 12 points. Ryon Moser leads the team in points with 14, while Brandon Clowes continues to lead the ‘Horns with eight goals this season.
In October, the Birds swept the Horns’ 5-1 and 7-3. Despite the success they have had, they can ill afford to take Lethbridge lightly. No doubt the Pronghorns will be playing for pride and vying to end their losing streak before season play is over.
Despite their stellar play down the stretch, the power play continues to be a concern for Kuntz. The Thunderbirds have managed just eight power play goals in 26 games this season and have gone six games without a goal on the man advantage.
“Simply put we need more shots and we need to be hungrier to finish in front of the net,” said Kuntz. “If you look at last Saturday night, even though it wasn’t on the power play, we had four breakaways in the third period and did not record a shot on goal. Those are opportunities for us to put teams away. The chances are there, we need better finish.”
Puck drop is slated for 6:00 pm MST on both Thursday and Friday night in Lethbridge, Alberta.