Thunderbirds men's hockey split physical weekend with Griffins

Over the weekend the UBC Thunderbirds faced off against the visiting University of MacEwan Griffins with a chance to climb the standings. UBC goaltender Dorrin Luding and Griffins goaltender Ashton Abel showed out as UBC split two hard-fought games to remain above .500 and tied for fourth in the Canada West.

On Friday night the T-Birds took to the ice for game one, and with UBC’s goaltending numbers among the worst in the league, head coach Sven Butenschön started third-year goaltender Luding. It was the second start of the Prince George native's Canada West career, having won his debut late last season against Trinity Western.

A few momentary defensive lapses put Luding to the test early, but he kept the game scoreless. In the net for the Griffins was fourth-year transfer Abel. Abel played the last three seasons in the NCAA with Boston University, where he amassed three wins in 13 games, before joining the Griffins this year. Like Luding, Abel came up big early, shutting down any UBC chances with ease, and allowing MacEwan’s Ryley Appelt to score the game’s first goal short-handed.

The T-Birds didn’t wait long before responding. Sam Huo and Jack Wismer took advantage of back-to-back powerplays to give UBC the lead before the end of the period.

Though the Griffins were also handed their opportunities on the powerplay, Luding and fearless defensive blocks kept the T-Birds in the lead.

In the second period, it looked like this game would be a goaltending battle. Leaky defences and vibrant offences on both sides left much of the score to be decided by the ever-capable Luding and Abel.

More opportunities on gifted powerplays saw UBC take a 4–1 lead into the final frame with a goal from Ethan McIndoe and another from Huo. Things got rough in the third when a splatter of goals accompanied a parade to the penalty box. Rookie T-Birds defenceman Jake Lee scored his team-leading sixth of the season, and Richmond-born Jordan Sandhu scored the first of his Canada West career to top off a 6–2 UBC win.

Huo took home first star honours with a three-point night, while Luding made 30 saves for his first win of the season.

“He made all the saves [that] we asked him to,” head coach Sven Butenschön said of his goaltender post game, “he played a great game, and gave us a chance [to win].”

The following afternoon, Butenschön gave the starting nod to Cole Schwebius. The rookie goaltender made several showstopping saves, but Griffins goaltender Abel stole the show. In a physical battle that saw over 66 minutes of playtime, Abel stopped 44 of 46 UBC shots, leading to a 3–2 double overtime victory for MacEwan.

“I thought we came out with a ton of energy,” said Butenschön, “but ... we lacked [the] same thing that’s been ailing us this year … [we] couldn’t get that save, or that goal when we [needed] it.” Though the game’s outcome could have been altered had a few bounces gone the T-Birds way, Butenschön didn’t put any weight into the thought.

“You don’t like to believe in luck at this level,” he said, “if you believe in analytics, and continue to do the little things well … you will win hockey games. That’s how I’ve run this program over the years … and quite honestly we haven’t had a team that’s looked as good [as this] one in that department.”

Next week the T-Birds will head to Calgary to face off against the 5–3–0–0 University of Calgary Dinos once more in a series that will have considerable impact on the Canada West standings.

“[We]’re flirting with disaster a little bit,” remarked Butenschön, “but going into Alberta, we have to [keep] doing the same things.”