Men's hockey is playing to win with powerful penalty kills

With playoffs fast approaching, the men’s hockey Thunderbirds are as determined as ever, sitting in a hard-earned first place in Canada West. They currently boast a record of 20–4–0 and a conference-best .833 winning percentage, and nothing seems to be slowing them down.

This season, the ‘Birds started things off on a high note, earning a 5–0 pre-season record and following that up with a scratch-free record after ten consecutive wins.

“From day one, it felt more like a family; it felt more united,” said the team’s head coach Sven Butenschon. “And once the games started, you saw it on the ice how much the guys were playing for each other.”

At the beginning of the season, the team faced a blow when starting goaltender Kaeden Lane suffered a knee injury, leaving second-year Cole Schewbius to take his place. Yet, despite this unexpected switch-up, Schwebius stepped up, going above and beyond and earning a wicked .927 save percentage.

“Cole has taken over and done a great job so far,” said Butenschon, who also had praise for the whole team. “It’s unbelievable how focused these guys are and how hard they go no matter what we ask them to do.”

The team’s offence, notably forwards Liam Kindree, Sam Huo and Sasha Mutala, dominated the ice with decisive penalty kills. UBC currently leads Canada West (CW) in penalty kill percentage. By the season’s midpoint, it was team captain and third-year forward Chris Douglas’s time to shine as he became the offensive line’s top scorer and extended his point streak over four games.

“When you have a captain that is first to the rink and does the drill as hard as he can and is the last guy off the ice … it’s really powerful,” said Butenschon.

In his second season as team captain, Douglas is thrilled at how the offensive line is beginning to mesh. Last year, the team had 11 new additions to their roster, with three more offensive players, Ty Thorpe, Jake Wright and Ben Kotylak, joining for the 2023/24 season.

“The friendships we’ve been able to develop off the ice is a reason why we’ve been able to do so well,” said Douglas. “Those are the things that our team thrives off.”

Returning to the ice after the winter break, the ‘Birds cranked things up a notch, earning nine consecutive wins. The team is motivated and hopeful to take home the 2024 U Sports University Cup, hoping to change the narrative from last season, which ended with the T-Birds losing in the CW semi-finals.

“We know what we have to do, and if we do, we should have a good chance,” said Douglas.

With the final four games of the season ticking down, the ‘Birds are in for a thrilling battle come playoff season. This team has all-star potential and the drive to go all the way.