Monday, 15 July 2019

T-Birds Tangle With Badgers

The wildlife on Vancouver Island is pretty diverse with a number of notable animals calling the west coast home. Among those are the majestic bald eagle, the industrious beaver, raccoons, black bears, black-tailed deer, sea lions, otters, and grey wolves. One animal that isn't part of that ecosystem? The badger, but the city of Vancouver and the campus of UBC better be ready because there will be an influx of Badgers heading to that area on August 30th and September 1st this year.

For the first time in six years, the UBC Thunderbirds men's hockey team will face an NCAA opponent in the preseason, and they've opted to tangle with one of the mightiest foes the NCAA has to offer in the Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers are no strangers to success as they are six-time NCAA National Champions and have made 12 Frozen Four appearances. What UBC head coach Sven Butenschon is hoping to do is foster that winning success in Vancouver after recruiting eight new players by playing one of the best collegiate teams on the continent.

"It will be very interesting to see how the new guys adapt," Butenschon told UBC's Jeff Sargeant. "It'll be important to get a lot done in that first week of training camp leading up to playing the Badgers."

Wisconsin, who play in the uber-competitive Big10 conference, went 9-10-7 in conference play last season and 14-18-5 overall. They were good at home, going 9-7-1, but atrocious on the road where they amassed a 5-11-3 record. This team can't be taken lightly, however, as they still feature some incredibly-talented players and have a sharp mind behind the bench in former NHL great Tony Granato. They scored the third-most goals in Big10 overall play with 113, so they will dent twine when given the chance. This is going to be a great test for the UBC Thunderbirds as much as it will be for the Wisconsin Badgers.

"It's a huge honour for us, we've been working on this for a long time now," Butenschon said to Sargeant. "To get an NCAA powerhouse like Wisconsin is going to be super fun and the fact they have (Alex) Turcotte and (Cole) Caufield, two high picks from this year's NHL draft, there will be a lot of fans in Vancouver that can get to see what some of the future holds."

Outside of Turcotte and Caufield, there will be some additional players that UBC fans may want to see. Ben Helgeson is headed to Wisconsin after a solid BCHL campaign with the Vernon Vipers where he had four goals and 13 helpers in 51 games. Dylan Holloway, who starred with the WHL's Everett Silvertips, has committed to the Badgers following a trade to the Winnipeg Ice. Jesper Peltonen, the son of former NHLer Ville Peltonen, and K'Andre Miller, the 22nd-overall pick by the New York Rangers in 2018, should hopefully also be in the lineup on at least one of the two nights Wisconsin plays UBC.

UBC, who finished in fourth-place last season with a 14-14 record, will be looking to continue to improve after finishing the season strong. With eight new recruits, there is optimism in Vancouver over how far this Thunderbirds team can go with some of the changes in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but they'll get their first good test against a Wisconsin team that is also looking to grow together.

"UBC is a great program, and going to a hockey mecca, where some of our guys were just picked in the NHL draft, is going to be a great experience to kick off the year," Tony Granato stated. "We're young, so we are always looking for team bonding experience to get to know each other and to have some fun."

For those looking to catch the Badgers in Vancouver, Game One of the two-game series will be played on Friday, August 30th at Father Bauer Arena with a 7:00pm PT puck drop. The rematch goes at 4:00pm PT on Sunday, September 1st at Father Bauer. Tickets will be available at the door only and admission will be by donation with a suggested price of $5 each. It's literally the best hockey you'll see in August, so get off your wallets, Vancouverites, and go see the Wisconsin Badgers battle your hometown UBC Thunderbirds!

From the words of both coaches, it sounds like this preseason two-game series will be a good experience for both squads as they look to kick off the 2019-20 season with some fun, some strong play, and some good team bonding. Maybe the Badgers will make these trips out to Canada West more often? It would be nice to see!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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