A victory over the Golden Bears would insure the Thunderbirds a trip to the CIS National Championship in Halifax, NS, as the top two teams from the Canada West will represent the conference at nationals.
Last year, Alberta’s top two lines wreaked havoc on UBC outscoring the Bird’s 11-3 in just two games. This semi final showdown allowed the Golden Bears to continue their playoff dreams and go on to win the coveted Canada West Champions title.
During regular season play this past year, however, the two squads have met a total of four times. At the start of the year, UBC split the series at home with the Bears. But when the T-Birds were on the road, Alberta nabbed both victories over the T-Birds.
Because the Bears finished no. 1 during regular season play, Alberta has had four weeks off. Unfortunately for UBC, the team has been on a winning streak since November, and historically, the Bears have won every playoff game against the Thunderbirds.
But as many UBC fans have noticed, this season’s UBC men’s hockey team offers a very different program from previous years. Under the guidance of head coach Tyler Kuntz, UBC finished fourth in the Canada West regular season and for the first time since 1971 hosted a conference playoff series. Last weekend, the men bested the Manitoba Bisons 2-1 in a best-of-three quarter-final series.
Leading UBC to the series victory last weekend was forward Cole Wilson, who netted three goals and six points in the series. Wilson was followed closely by teammate rookie Manraj Hayer, who scored two goals and five points. UBC’s effort was also aided by third-year rearguard Neil Manning who recently returned to the team after playing for Team Canada at the 2015 Winter Universiade in Granada, Spain.
This weekends series will be challenging for UBC as the Golden Bears sport the best offence in Canada West. Alberta is the only team to have scored over 100 goals on the year, holding the second-best tally in the nation. Not only do they have a plethora of weapons in their arsenal, but the Bears boast the second-best defense in Canada West, tied with Calgary.
Alberta’s senior goaltender Kurtis Mucha and second-year keeper Luke Siemens have recorded respective GAA stats of 1.87 and 2.06, while their save percentages of .917 and .899 have seen better days.
UBC’s rookie goaltender Eric Wiliams has been sharing the load with second-year Matt Hewitt in the UBC net during the regular season, but got the call for all three playoff games against Manitoba, allowing just six goals against over the three game series.
Puck drop is set for 6:00 pm PST this Friday night for the best-of-three semi-final series against the Alberta Golden Bears.