Sunday, 1 March 2015

Thunderbirds Grounded

The image to the left is one style of thunderbird depicted in traditional First Nations art. The thunderbird has a deep connection to the First Nations communities on the west coast, and is typically seen in their artwork and totems as a sacred icon. Unfortunately, none of this sacredness played a part in the University of Manitoba women's hockey team's success over the UBC Thunderbirds at Father David Bauer Arena this weekend as the Bisons will advance to the Canada West Women's Hockey Final with a 2-1 series win! The series was exciting, and it was capped off by an incredible Game Three which took place tonight in Vancouver. If you aren't a fan of women's hockey, you may have missed out one of this year's best hockey games.

UBC took Game One by a 2-1 score in a game that had all the makings of a playoff game between heated rivals - tight checking, solid goaltending, a late rally, and a lot of penalties. Former Team Canada goaltender Danielle Dubé recorded the win for the Thunderbirds, and they had the edge in the best-of-three series early. However, Manitoba rallied in Game Two with a thrilling double-overtime goal from Alexandra Anderson to give Manitoba the 2-1 victory. Again, there was no love lost on these two teams as they had totaled 26 minor penalties in the two games to that point with 16 of them occurring in Game Two. The rubber match would determine who would advance to the final to play the University of Alberta Pandas, and that's where we pick up this story.

These two teams continued their physical play as Game Three started, and UBC was whistled for the first penalty as Kaylin Snodgrass was sent off for interference. Did I mention this was a physical series? Of the eight minor penalties called tonight, two were for hits to the head and two were for bodychecking. In any case, Manitoba grabbed an early lead as Alanna Sharman - Canada West's leading scorer during the regular season - was sent in alone on Dubé and made no mistake in potting her fourth goal of the playoffs midway through the first period. UBC would mount a few sustained attacks, but the defence and goaltender of Rachel Dyck sent the Bisons into the intermission with the 1-0 lead.

The second period saw both teams continue their playoff-style hockey as the tight checking persisted. Manitoba, it seemed, was told by head coach Jon Rempel to sacrifice the body as Manitoba blocked a ton of shots. UBC had a few good chances, but nothing would find the twine as the period would expire with Manitoba still leading 1-0. In a rather humorous moment, the camera caught Manitoba forward Alana Serhan having a discussion with UBC fans while she sat in the penalty box. It appeared they were debating a heated topic, though, as gestures and expressions indicated a lively debate. To their credit, UBC fans were boisterous all night, and it really ramped up the atmosphere at Father David Bauer Arena despite their team trailing 1-0 after two periods.

The third period started with Manitoba on the power-play as Nikola Brown-John's penalty for bodychecking carried over from the second period. The Bisons didn't waste this opportunity as Alana Serhan scored on a great setup from Alanna Sharman just 24 seconds in, and the Bisons had a two-goal advantage. If you have been following this Bisons squad over the last couple of weeks, you know that a two-goal lead is anything but safe, so could they handle the Thunderbirds in the last 19:36?

UBC applied incredible pressure for the remainder of the game, pinning the Bisons in their own zone for minutes at a time at points. That persistent offensive effort would pay off when Rebecca Unrau would deflect a Celine Tardif shot in front of the net with Rachel Dyck unable to corral the redirected puck at 10:56. With 9:04 remaining, the lead was cut in half, and the momentum was almost entirely on the T-Birds' side.

The last five minutes of the game was played entirely inside the Bisons' zone aside from the odd clearing attempt. UBC brought everything they had, and Manitoba threw bodies all over the ice to block shots. Kayleigh Wiens, in particular, blocked a Tatiana Rafter shot that ricocheted off her shin pad and was finally retrieved by UBC inside their own zone! Rachel Dyck made a couple of incredible pad saves to keep the lead intact, and the final horn would sound amidst a flurry of activity in front of Dyck with the Bisons on top by that 2-1 score!

The Bisons will now travel to Edmonton to battle one of the top women's teams in the country in the Alberta Pandas with a berth to the CIS Championships on the line in Calgary. Alberta and Manitoba split the season series at 2-2 with both teams winning once at home and once on the road. Alberta won 1-0 and lost 4-3 in the weekend series in Edmonton on November 7 and 8, and Manitoba won 1-0 and lost 3-2 in the series in Winnipeg on November 28 and 29. As you can see, both teams scored seven goals while giving up seven goals, and both teams recorded a shutout. Needless to say, this series should be another closely-fought battle. I'm psyched for it!

If you're in Edmonton and heading down to catch the action, may I suggest something? If you're going to chirp, it's probably not a good idea to chirp Bisons goalie Amanda Schubert. Schubert, for her part, has been a huge supporter of Rachel Dyck's play this season, and she's embraced her role on the team in the playoffs as the back-up goalie. Chirping her about sitting the bench is honestly dumb because one of the two goalies HAS to sit on the bench. However, that didn't stop Schubert from exacting a little revenge and stealing the fan's sign about her having the best seat in the house, and she posted it to Twitter with the following awesome message:
That's why this team is awesome, and that's why you don't mess with Schubert. This team is really coming together at the right time and getting key contributions from players such as Courtlyn Oswald, Alexandra Anderson, and Erica Rieder. The top line of Alana Serhan, Alanna Sharman, and Maggie Litchfield-Medd is one of the best in women's hockey at this very moment, but they'll have to be at their best once more against Canada West's best team in Alberta and top goaltender in Lindsay Post. The Bisons have proven they can win on Clare Drake Arena ice, though, so this series will be about which team executes better and it might come down to a couple of bounces one way or the other.

As for the T-Birds, there will be no more chirping this season as the Herd advance! Go Herd Go!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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