VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds (8-12-2) scored three times in the third period for a 4-2 comeback victory against the No. 2-ranked Saskatchewan Huskies (16-4-2) Saturday at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, pulling UBC within a single point of the final Canada West playoff berth.
In an identical scenario to Friday night’s 2-1 loss, the T-Birds found themselves down by a goal heading into the final period Saturday. This time the Thunderbirds’ desperation and hustle proved to be a major difference. Chase Clayton tied the game at the 4:49 mark of the third with his seventh of the season from Kyler Nachtigall and Austin Vetterl, the beginning of a major momentum shift.
With seven and a half to play, Luke Lockhart broke into the offensive zone and got a shot on net from a sharp angle after being forced wide before getting tangled up and going heavy into the end boards. Nick Buonassisi was able to hold the zone and fed the puck back to Lockhart who outwaited Saskatchewan’s Daniel Wapple for his sixth of the season and second of the game giving UBC their first lead of the weekend.
“I got tripped up and slid into the boards pretty hard,” said Lockhart.
“But I got up and realized we still had the puck and it seemed like (the Huskies) left the zone and forgot I was still down there. It was a nice break and a nice feed from (Buonassisi).”
Less than two minutes later the T-Birds doubled their lead as Buonassisi scored a highlight-reel tally for his first of the season. He broke in one-on-one with Huskies defenceman Jordan Fransoo after getting a nice feed from Antilla. Buonassisi then faked out Fransoo powering to the net and roofed the puck past Wapple making it a 4-2 UBC lead with less than six minutes remaining.
The Huskies pulled Wapple for the extra attacker with two minutes left but couldn’t beat Matt Hewitt who made 20 saves for his fifth win of the season.
“We stuck to the game plan adding in a little bit of desperation against one of the top teams in Canada,” said UBC head coach Sven Butenschon who was very pleased with the entire group effort especially in the final period.
“Some of those guys were so overdue to score it was bound to happen. It was great for Lockhart and Buonassisi to get on the board.”
After a scoreless first period, Saskatchewan got on the board 9:38 into the second on the power play with Jesse Forsberg’s 11th of the season as he got the puck through traffic. Logan McVeigh and Michael Sofillas got the assists.
The lead lasted little over five minutes before Lockhart scored his first of the game, snapping the puck post and in with Jerret Smith and Buonassisi credited with the helpers.
The Huskies restored their lead at the 18:02 mark with Andrew Johnson’s sixth, tipping in a left point shot from John Lawrence, setting the stage for UBC’s dramatic third-period comeback.
The Thunderbirds finished the game 0-for-2 on the power play while the Huskies scored once on four tries. Saskatchewan outshot the ‘Birds 22-21.
“It’s huge win going down into the stretch here,” said Lockhart who earned the game’s first star with his second game-winning goal of the season and his first multi-goal game.
“They’re one of the best teams in Canada and they’ve been hot lately. To beat them it really gives us confidence going forward to keep rolling and really make a push to make playoffs.”
Buonassisi finished with a goal and two assists for second star honours. Fifth-year forward Joe Antilla had a pair of assists and now has five points in his last four games.
Now 6-5-1 at home and 8-12-2 overall, UBC can leapfrog the Pronghorns into a playoff spot with a pair of wins in Lethbridge next weekend. It’s a scenario Butenschon says they’re happy to have.
“That’s all you want, a chance to take care of business yourself, you don’t want to rely on anyone else,” said Butenschon.
“We’ve had a good run here after Christmas but none of that matters if we can’t take care of business next weekend. We need to have a good week of practice and go into Lethbridge and keep this momentum.”
Saskatchewan will play a home-and-home doubleheader against provincial rivals Regina next weekend, with the Huskies hosting the first game on Friday at Rutherford Rink.