VANCOUVER – The exhibition season will be a matter of East vs. West for the UBC Thunderbirds. In late September and early October the Thunderbirds will face off against the Chinese women’s national ice hockey team (Team China) and the two Chinese expansion entries in the CWHL (Canadian Women’s Hockey League), the Kunlun Red Star and the Vanke Rays.
Tue, Sep 26 @ 7:00 PM – CWHL’s Kunlun Red Star vs. UBC (Father Bauer Arena)
Wed, Sep 27 @ 7:00 PM – Team China vs. UBC (Father Bauer Arena)
Mon, Oct 2 @ 7:00 PM – CWHL’s Vanke Rays vs. UBC (Thunderbird Arena)
The Chinese CWHL teams boast star-studded rosters of former Team Canada and Team USA skaters as well as former stars from the NCAA.
The Kunlun Red Star is backstopped by Finnish goalie Noora Räty, who knows UBC very well. She helped Team Finland to the bronze medal at the 2010 Olympics when many games in the women’s hockey tournament were played at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. A five-time world champion with Team USA, Kelli Stack, was part of the American squad that won silver at the 2010 Olympics and signed with the Red Star this summer. She promises to be a handful for the Thunderbird defence.
Team China will once again be lead by veteran defender and team captain Yu Baiwei, who also played for China at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
The three-games follow the lead of the successful Thunderbirds vs. Team China game held in October of 2016. A large, boisterous crowd attended the 2016 exhibition game at UBC, which the Thunderbirds went on to win by a score of 4-1.
The coaching staff from Team China will have a particular interest in the Thunderbirds’ 2017 line-up, as UBC will ice four players who are eligible to represent China in international play, Emily Costales, Tiffany Chiu, Jenna Fletcher and Shiayli Toni.
The four Thunderbirds will have the opportunity to practice and potentially scrimmage with Team China during their visit to Metro Vancouver. With Beijing hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022 there is no shortage of demand for skilled, eligible players to enter into the Chinese program.
“Growing up you often think the dream would be to play for Canada,” said third-year forward Toni who recorded two assists in UBC’s 4-1 victory in 2016. “Then you realize there could be an opportunity to play for a team that represents your family’s heritage.”
Fletcher, who had drawn the eye of the Chinese national program before she had even played with the Thunderbirds, is also relishing the opportunity.
“It’s very exciting,” said the UBC freshman. “To get a chance to play hockey at the international level is something we all think about growing up.”
A UBC red shirt in 2016-17, Tiffany Chiu suited up for the Thunderbirds in last year’s Team China game and even went on to score a shootout goal in the T-Birds’ win.
“It’s going to be good to get another chance to play in an event like this,” explained Chiu. “I felt a little overwhelmed last year as I was still a red shirt. This year I know more of what to expect and it will help my performance.”
One of UBC’s main offseason acquisitions, after transferring from Syracuse University, Costales already attended a Team China identification camp in Toronto over the summer.
“It’s nice to see the sport growing in my family’s homeland,” said Costales. “Growing up, there were not a large amount of Asians involved in hockey. It was a cool feeling to be on the ice with so many other players of Asian descent.”
More information about the games will become available on GoThunderbirds.ca in the coming days. The UBC women’s hockey team have now begun their 2017-18 training camp. The T-Birds’ Canada West season opener goes October 6 at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre against Manitoba.