VANCOUVER – Three unanswered goals in the final nine minutes of play gave the reigning CIS men’s hockey champions, the University of Alberta Golden Bears, an improbable 4-3 win over the UBC Thunderbirds at Clare Drake Arena in Edmonton on Saturday night.
The victory gives Alberta a 2-0 sweep of the Canada West semifinal series and ends the Thunderbirds chances of advancing to the national championship tournament.
“This was an extremely tough loss,” said UBC head coach Tyler Kuntz. “I thought both teams again played really hard and unfortunately we couldn’t hang on at the end. It is a tough lesson to learn but you can’t give the best team in canada in their own rink a hint of a chance to get back into the game. They saw their opportunity and took it. That’s why they’re the best.”
Two first-period goals by UBC gave the visitors a strong start as both Cole Wilson (White Rock, B.C.) and Anthony Bardaro (Delta, B.C.) scored within the first ten minutes of play.
The opening marker was a UBC point shot that deflect high off Wilson before caroming off the far post and in, only 2:15 into the match.
The Thunderbirds, down 1-0 in the weekend series, used the lead to fuel more early pressure, leading to Bardaro’s tally in the slot just over five-and-a-half minutes later, firing blocker side on sophomore netminder Luke Siemens and silencing the hometown crowd.
Alberta’s reply came from Jamie Crook, who was able to capitalize on a loose puck and score with just eight seconds left in the first period.
Into the second, UBC continued playing gritty hockey with good back pressure, making it difficult for Alberta to get the puck past the blue line. On an odd-man rush, trailing T-Bird Luke Lockhart (Burnaby, B.C.) knocked in his own rebound from his knees at 10:31 to restore the two-goal advantage going into the third.
But Alberta rallied over the break and relentlessly pressured UBC. On the Golden Bears power play, Jordan Rowley was able to capitalize with the man-advantage with 8:50 left to go and scored on a one-timer, beating UBC goaltender Eric Williams (Langley, B.C.), who had been standing on his head to maintain the blue and gold lead.
Unfortunately for the ‘Birds, Williams suffered an injury on the goal and left the game without returning. Matt Hewitt (New Westminster, B.C.) was called into action. Just over five minutes later, forward Levko Koper got his first goal of postseason play tying things up at 3-3.
The game winner came with just 33 seconds left as Kruise Reddick one-timed a pass over Hewitt’s blocker to make it 4-3.
The T-Birds, pulling Hewitt in the dying seconds, almost tied the game when both Lockhart and St. Albert, Alta. native Nate Fleming had chances in tight, but Siemens’ left pad preserved the win.
UBC’s Williams was named the game’s second star after a strong 33-save performance between the pipes tonight, while Alberta’s Siemens turned aside 23 of the 26 shots he faced.
Alberta went 1-1 on the power-play while UBC went 0-1.
Despite tonight’s loss, the 2014-15 Canada West campaign was a historic one for the Thunderbirds and first-year head coach Kuntz. UBC hosted its first playoff series since 1971, which it won before falling in the league semifinals.
“We just needed to close,” said Kuntz. “That’s the way it goes. Every guy played their hearts out tonight for each other and did their very best. That’s all you can ask for. Our program keeps doing that and we’ll be back here for more important games next March.”