VANCOUVER – The No. 1-ranked UBC Thunderbirds pulled out a gritty 2-0 win over the visiting Saskatchewan Huskies on Friday night, as they claimed their place in, and the right to host, the Canada West Final Four.
A brace from Milad Mehrabi proved the difference on the evening, as he notched a goal in each half to get the ‘Birds one step closer on their road to Canada West, and CIS, glory.
The first dangerous chance for either side came in the 17th minute, when Mehrabi got a bit of time and space near the top of the Saskatchewan 18-yard box and let go of a blast that clanged hard off the crossbar, leaving the game scoreless.
The T-Birds dominated possession for the majority of the opening frame, and were finally rewarded for their efforts in the 38th minute. With a crowded Saskatchewan box in front of him, midfielder Harry Lakhan let fly a beautiful cross that found Mehrabi, who directed it past Huskies goalkeeper Greg Buckley to make it 1-0 UBC
Midfielder Sean Einarsson almost doubled UBC’s lead on a free kick just four minutes later, after Gagan Dosanjh was hauled down 20 yards out from the Saskatchewan goal. Einarsson stepped into the free kick and wired a shot off the crossbar, narrowly missing the mark.
Dosanjh got a chance at a free kick of his own just before the end of the first half, as Lakhan was fouled by a Saskatchewan defender. Dosanjh let go of a screamer that was tagged for the corner, but Buckley made a fantastic desperation stop, keeping the UBC lead at 1-0 heading into the break.
Saskatchewan’s best chance came in the 56th minute with the Thunderbirds ahead by just a goal. Bobbi Nicholat lobbed a pass over the UBC defence to a streaking Garrett Peters. Alone on the left edge of the penalty area, he sailed a shot intended for the far post high over the crossbar.
Around the 67-minute mark, the home side almost scored a crazy play. From about 70 yards away from the Saskatchewan cage, UBC defender Bryan Fong noticed that Buckley had moved off his line. Trying to catch the keeper off guard, Fong then let go of a monstrous shot, and missed by just a foot wide left.
Einarsson got another glorious chance to give UBC some insurance in the 76th minute, as he found himself alone in close against Buckley. Einarsson fired a low, hard shot, but the Saskatchewan ‘keeper did well to challenge, cut down the angle, and block the attempt.
The ‘Birds finally got the insurance goal they needed just seven minutes later, and this time, Mehrabi did it all by himself. The fifth-year midfielder raced onto a loose ball in the open field, and, in close quarters with both a Huskies defender and an on-rushing Buckley, managed to evade both. Then, it was simply a matter of sliding the ball into the empty net, which he did with ease.
With a 2-0 lead and less than five minutes left on the clock, the T-Birds cruised to the win, and sealed their place in the Canada West Final Four.
Both Buckley and Thunderbirds goalie Chad Bush stopped four shots on Friday night.
The hosts had nine corners to the Huskies’ three.
After the contest, UBC head coach Mike Mosher gave full credit to his opponents.
“We’re obviously pleased with the result, and pleased to be moving on. That’s a damn good fourth-place team. I remember watching video of them and thinking that this wasn’t a good reward for coming in first place in the conference. “
Looking forward to next week, Mosher admitted that there is one thing that he definitely wants to carry over from tonight’s performance.
“Winning,” said the head coach.
The T-Birds will have a shot to do just that next weekend, as they host the Canada West Final Four. Alongside UBC, the Victoria Vikes punched their ticket to the dance on Friday night, as they topped the Mount Royal Cougars 5-0.
The final two competitiors will be determined tomorrow, as the Calgary Dinos will face the Trinity Western Spartans, with the winners facing Victoria in the Final Four, while the Fraser Valley Cascades will take on the Alberta Golden Bears, with the winners squaring off against UBC next week.
The Huskies conclude their season in the Canada West quarter-final round, a year after claiming the conference title. Saskatchewan finished with a 6-3-3 regular season record.