Vancouver, BC – The University of British Columbia Thunderbirds men’s hockey team welcomed playoff hockey back to campus in a thrilling 5-1 victory over the University of Manitoba Bisons Thursday night. After not hosting a playoff game for 44 years, the Thunderbirds put on a show for their home crowd as 12 different players earned points. With their ‘W’, the ‘Birds lead the best-of-three Canada West quarter-final series against the Bisons 1-0.
All four UBC lines scored tonight, demonstrating a full team effort. Dillon Wagner (1G, 0A), Jessi Hilton (1G, 0A), Greg Fraser (1G, 0A), Anthony Bardaro (1G, 0A), and Ben Schmidt (1G, 1A) all found the back of the net, Schmidt’s final goal even coming on the power play.
While UBC head coach Tyler Kuntz was pleased with the win, he still thinks the ‘Birds have a lot of work to do.
“18 days off is tough,” he said, after the game. “We need to play faster. I like the fact that we scored first and we scored early, and when you can do that I think it changes the dynamic of the game a little, but if we didn’t score those first two goals we would’ve been in deep trouble. We got on our heels a bit there in the third.”
Nick Buonassisi, one of two Thunderbirds walking away from the game with two points, agrees.
“We can’t ever be satisfied, we can’t let them back in. Their season’s on the line tomorrow, so we know what to expect. If we can keep putting all those pucks on net and taking advantage of those scoring opportunities we’ll be fine tomorrow.”
UBC opened up scoring with a pair of back-to-back goals within the first four minutes of the game. After Dillon Wagner and Joe Antilla unleashed a series of rapid-fire attacks on Manitoba’s net, Wagner found the puck on his stick rising from a tumble and lifted it over Deven Dubyk’s right shoulder. The offensive barrage continued and 1:05 later, Luke Lockhart and Buonassisi connected, feeding the puck to Jessi Hilton, who furthered the Thunderbirds’ lead.
The Bisons battled back, earning their first and only tally of the game. After a rush that left the crease crowded, second-year defenceman Kyle Rous backpedaled into the faceoff circle and fired, netting one high on UBC goaltender Eric Williams. The first ended in UBC’s favour 2-1.
The ‘Birds wasted no time re-establishing their offensive dominance in the second, scoring their third goal one minute in. Buonassisi deked through a set of Bisons defencemen, slipping the puck between pairs of skates as Greg Fraser raced up along his right. A quick tip gave Fraser the puck and he ushered it in for his first goal of the post-season and Buonassisi’s second assist. The Thunderbirds’ second goal came from Manraj Hayer and Cole Wilson, who passed the entire length of the ice until they found Anthony Bardaro, who netted his first of the postseason between Dubyk’s legs. Although they were given the man-advantage three times in the period, UBC was unable to capitalize on the power play, finishing the second 0-for-4.
With one more goal in the third, the Thunderbirds would secure the win 5-1, this time on the power play. Cycling the puck in front of Dubyk, Schmidt scored on a slap shot from the blue line off of a cross-ice pass from fellow defenceman Neil Manning.
Key to UBC’s victory was Williams, who refused to allow the Bisons more than a single goal in 60 minutes of play. The rookie made saves worthy of earning him first star of the game, three especially big ones on the penalty kill in the third.
The victory now puts Manitoba’s 2014-2015 season on the line. If they lose tomorrow they will be eliminated from the Canada West Playoffs and UBC will advance to the semifinals, where they were halted in their quest for the championship last year, losing to Alberta.
“The big thing for us is hosting,” Kuntz said, concerning preparations for tomorrow’s rematch. “But it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win. So the ultimate focus for us right now is winning. Expecting to win. Tomorrow we’ll need better puck management. We’ll need to make smarter plays, make quicker plays; our head speed was off, so hopefully tomorrow we’ll be back to playing at full speed.”
Puck drop for game two of the best-of-three series is slated for 7 p.m. tomorrow, at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.