Edmonton, AB – First place in the Canada West is on the line heading into the final weekend of the regular season as the No. 7 ranked University of British Columbia (17-5-4) women’s hockey team takes on the No. 4 ranked University of Alberta Pandas (19-6-1) in Edmonton. Just three points separate the top two teams in the conference with Alberta sitting atop the standings with 57 points and UBC in second with
UBC heads into the weekend riding a five game winning streak. Sweep the series and they finish first overall earning home ice advantage throughout the playoffs; come away with a minimum three points and they will lock up at least second and a bye in the first round of the Canada West playoffs.
“We’re approaching this weekend as a dress rehearsal for the playoffs,” UBC head coach Graham Thomas said about the upcoming series. “We’re playing one of the top teams in the country. They’re well coached and well disciplined.”
In their last 10 games, both teams have lost just once.
UBC wrapped up their regular season at home last weekend by sweeping the visiting University of Manitoba Bisons and climbing in the standings. With spectacular offensive performances by senior Tatiana Rafter and teammates Nicole Saxvik and Rebecca Unrau, the Thunderbirds were able to defeat the Bisons 4-3 on Friday evening, and 5-2 on Saturday afternoon.
The Panda’s return home to host the ‘Birds on a two game winning streak after completing their own sweep of the University of Calgary Dinos last weekend. Saturday’s game was a shutout victory, in which Pandas goaltender Lindsey Post stopped 24 shots on goal, helping her team earn the ‘W’. Post has started all 26 of the Pandas’ games this season, boasting a 1.19 goals against average and a staggering 10 shutouts on the season.
Along with Post in net, the Pandas have a formidable defence, but the ‘Birds should be able to produce.
“We need to continue to find ways to be creative on offense and establish a way to keep scoring goals and keep that pressure on them,” Thomas said. “It’s not just [Post], it’s their team defence. Playing them this weekend will be a huge challenge for us.”
Currently, Rafter and Unrau are tied for fourth in the conference in goals with 14 each, while Rafter sits in third overall in points with 28. She also leads the Canada West in power play goals, with eight, and Unrau and Saxvik are tied for third with six.
UBC can’t get wrapped up in just scoring, though. Alberta players clutter the top of the plus/minus rankings, illustrating how strong their offense is. Forwards Alison Campbell, and Jessica Kampjes along with defenceman Morgan Kelly each have over a +20 rating this season alone. However, if the Thunderbirds can continue to play their game—the game that helped them climb from fifth in the standings after the holiday, to second—they can earn the wins.
“We still need to focus on how we can win, the process,” said Thomas. “We want to continue to play the full 60 minutes, like last weekend, and continue to move the puck and create a lot of traffic. We’re in control of our destiny here.”
Never in Thunderbirds history have the women’s varsity team finished a season above third place in the Canada West. This season could be different, though.
“We obviously want to make history,” said Thomas. “But the main focus this weekend is in our effort and how we play the game.”
The final puck drop of the regular season at Clare Drake Arena is slated for 6:00 pm (PT) this Friday, with a rematch set for 1:00 pm (PT) the following day.