Sunday, 23 September 2018

UBC's Preseason Adventures

That did not go as planned, I assume. The University of British Columbia Thunderbirds women's team is currently trekking across Minnesota while playing some of the NCAA's best after they started at home against Team Shenzhen, China's developmental team. After today's decision, the preseason tour where UBC is playing some rather good teams sees the T-Birds with a record of 1-4-0 with one game to play. It has to be an eye-opening affair for these women to walk into arenas such as the Verizon Center in Mankato, Minnesota and Ridder Arena at the University of Minnesota. These arenas are where a vast number of their heroes made their marks, and the Thunderbirds had a chance to make their own marks this weekend!

The team began its foray into the heart of American hockey country with a stop in Mankato to play the University of Minnesota-Mankato Mavericks. The two teams rolled out onto Verizon Center ice and traded chances, including three power-plays for Minnesota State and one for UBC, but the goaltenders were equal to the tasks as Minnesota State junior Chloe Crosby stopped 13 UBC shots while UBC's Tory Micklash was good on all 14 attempts against her.

Whatever was said between periods seemed to spark the Mavericks as they used just 30 seconds to open the scoring. Jordan McLaughlin cut up the right wing and ducked into the middle of the ice in the UBC zone where she unleashed a laser of a wrist shot that got past Micklash for the 1-0 Minnesota State lead. Later in the period, Minnesota State got the power-play working as Brooke Bryant's shot caught a player in front of Micklash and ricocheted past the goalkeeper for the 2-0 Minnesota State lead that they would carry into the intermission.

In the end, the Thunderbirds couldn't solve neither senior Katie Bidulka nor freshman Abigail Levy over the final 40 minutes as the three Minnesota State goalies combined for a 24-save shutout of the UBC Thunderbirds in the 2-0 win. Micklash stopped 18 of 20 shots she faced, but the UBC Thunderbirds simply couldn't solve the NCAA trio at the other end.

"We played well and it was a solid first game as a team, we saw some good things to build on," UBC head coach Graham Thomas said after the game. "We didn't have great puck luck tonight, but we had lots of chances and outshot them, which is a good sign."

Whatever Coach Thomas was feeling after that game on Saturday may have evaporated when the Thunderbirds rolled into Ridder Arena to face one of the NCAA's perennial powerhouses in the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. I should preface this by saying that these NCAA teams are just getting into their preseason training camp schedules as well, so it's not like the teams will be well-oiled machines at this point. Except this is Minnesota. Legends have played here. Expectations are banner-or-death. You get the picture, right?

Grace Zumwinkle opened the scoring for the third-ranked Gophers when she teed up a one-time from the point off a feed from Olivia Knowles at 6:05 that Amelia Boughn - a former NCAA netminder - simply could not stop. Amy Potomak. the BC native, potted a shorthanded marker at 17:54 before Katie Skaja and Nicole Schammel each scored inside the final minute to send the the Gophers to the dressing room with the impressive 4-0 lead. If one was looking for an example of how to set the tone in a game, the Gophers stomped all over UBC as they scored four times while limiting UBC to just two shots in the frame.

The second period was better for the Thunderbirds, but "better" is a relative term in this case. Tianna Gunderson found the back of the net on the power-play at 7:12 while Crystalyn Hengler added Minnesota's sixth goal of the night with 1:42 to go in the period as the Gophers were up six goals with one period to play. Netminder Sydney Scobee faced four UBC shots in the period as the Thunderbirds were still looking for their first goal in the state of Minnesota while trailing 6-0.

You can mark this down as a minor victory because Mathea Fischer beat Emma May at 4:18 of the third period to cut the lead to 6-1, but, more importantly, it marked UBC's first goal in the State of Hockey in just over five periods of play! That joyous moment, however, would fall back into the swirling Minnesota tornado of pain as Skaja converted a feed from Hengler for her second goal of the game midway through the final stanza, and that was followed by an Alex Woken goal with 5:17 remaining to make it an 8-1 thumping.

"We learned a lot today," spun UBC head coach Graham Thomas after his team took its worst defeat yet in this preseason. "We elevated our game and were pushed very hard by one of the best teams in the world. We're proud of our team and there are a lot of positive takeaways. We need to commit to playing at that intensity and speed all year in practices and games."

While Thomas might be finding positives in this game, there wasn't much that stood out on the stats sheet that was positive in terms of takeaways. Amelia Boughn surrendered all eight goals on 33 shots, 12 different Gophers recorded at least one point against UBC, Minnesota went 3-for-4 on the power-play and 2-for-2 on the penalty kill, and UBC managed just 13 shots on net for the entire game. Yes, Minnesota is one of the best college programs on the planet so there is some room for optimism for UBC, but this was Minnesota's first game of the preseason compared to UBC's fifth game. The T-Birds should have shown a little more than 13 shots against a team that's simply been practising, but that was not the case.

There's no time for licking one's wounds, though, as the T-Birds prepare for a battle with the Minnesota Whitecaps tomorrow. There's hope the can find a few more pucks to the net and maybe cash a goal or three in, but we'll have to see. Thus far in five preseason games, the T-Birds have managed a measly seven goals. That's not good enough with the talent they have, and it certainly won't be good enough in Canada West when they kick off their season on October 5 against Lethbridge.

If nothing else, the T-Birds need to come out tomorrow and roll over the 'Caps to show they're ready for Canada West season!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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