Vancouver, BC – The University of British Columbia men’s hockey team suffered a disappointing 4-3 overtime loss Saturday against the visiting University of Manitoba Bisons. The best-of-three quarter-final series is now tied 1-1.
Although the Thunderbirds were first to score and had the lead on three separate occasions, they were outplayed and unlucky, both of which were most apparent in the 44 seconds of overtime that resulted in a fluke game-winning goal by the Bisons Darren Bestland just off the glove of goaltender Eric Williams.
“We’ve got to keep the lead,” UBC head coach Tyler Kuntz said after the game. “We’ve played 12 games since Christmas and we’ve had the lead 11 times and we’ve won 7 games out of 12 and have lost 3 games in overtime. So, it’s pretty simple. Every time we have the lead we play [harried] like we’re down by six instead of up by two or three. We’ve got to play smarter.”
The Thunderbirds opened up scoring again, this time netting the only tally of the first. At 6:38, Neil Manning rimmed the puck around the back boards from the blue line to Jessi Hilton, who received it at the other side and passed it through a pair of Bisons skates to Nick Buonassisi. Buonassisi fed it to Luke Lockhart in the slot who unleashed a rocket past Manitoba goalie Byron Spriggs. The goal was Lockhart’s first of the post-season; the assists were Hilton’s first and Buonassisi’s third. 1-0 is how things stood through 20 minutes of play.
In the second Manitoba turned up their game. The Bisons first goal of the night came at 6:11, when Shaquille Merasty found himself with the puck off of a pass from Channing Bresciani, firing as he crossed the blue line. The goal was Merasty’s first of two points for the evening.
Less than two minutes later, Cole Wilson would temporarily steal back the lead, but it would not be enough to quell Manitoba until the end of the period. Entering the Bisons’ zone, Manraj Hayer fed him the puck for his second assist of the post-season and Wilson’s first goal. However, with 38 seconds left, Bisons Brett Dudar scored a power play goal off a rebound, after a thrilling split-save from Williams in net. 2-2 was the score after two periods of play.
UBC was quick to take back the lead in the third, but to no ultimate avail. Following a rush on Spriggs led by Anthony Bardaro, Hayer corralled a Wilson rebound to put the ‘Birds on top 3-2 for his second point of the night, third of the playoffs. Soon after though, Josh Elmes of Manitoba lobbed in a knuckle ball from the faceoff circle, that ricocheted off of the crowd in the crease to even the score, and keep it tied at three into overtime.
The Bisons ended overtime prematurely for the Thunderbirds, merely 44 seconds in. Darren Bestland scored on a tumbling puck that went off Williams’ glove and trickled into the net to give the Bisons the victory, ending extra time and leveling the best-of-three series 1-1.
“It’s simple,” Kuntz said on preparing for the final game tomorrow. “We’ve got to use our speed, we’ve got to get pucks behind their defencemen, we’ve got to get inside their defencemen, we’ve got to shoot more pucks to the net, out in front. We can’t circle on pucks, we’ve got to finish our checks, stay above their middle driver. There’s a lot of things we’ve got to do that we do most of the time, we just have to do them all the time. And that’s why we are where we are.”
With both teams’ seasons on the line, the matchup tomorrow is sure to be a riveting one; the winner will advance to the Canada-West semi finals the following week, another best-of-three series. Puck drop tomorrow is slated for 7:00 pm, again at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.