Saturday, February 15, 2020 was the last time that the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and the UBC Thunderbirds met in a Canada West playoff game. The Huskies had finished their regular season as top three in the conference, while the UBC had barely clinched a playoff spot, finishing their regular season as top six in the conference during 2019/20 season.
The T-Birds had already beat the Huskies in a 3–2 overtime win the night before, and were looking to continue their underdog — or, rather, underbird — story by securing their spot in the Canada West semifinals. With 6:08 left in first overtime and no score on the board, Captain Mathea Fischer assisted Alternate Captain Hannah Clayton Carroll to advance the T-Birds with a 1–0 win.
But despite a strong fight in the semifinals by the T-Birds, the University of Alberta Pandas, ranked top 2, would later eliminate the T-Birds to defeat the Mount Royal University Cougars in their road to becoming back-to-back Canada West Champions.
The 2022 Canada West playoffs looked a little different. This time around, the T-Birds finished their regular season with a 14–6–0 record and ranked top 2 in the Canada West Conference to bypass quarterfinals and proceeded straight to the tournament semifinals.
This time around, it was the T-Birds' turn to end the Pandas’ quest for a third straight conference title in game two of the semifinals, with a 5–1 win on home ice.
On the other hand, it was a long trip from Saskatoon to conference finals for the Huskies.
The Huskies finished their regular season with two losses at the University of Manitoba Bisons, an 11–9–0 record, and ranked fifth of nine teams in the Canada West Conference. Two weeks later, they were back in Winnipeg — where they broke their 4–0 losing streak against the Bisons to take Canada West Quarterfinals in two games with 4–2 and 3–0 wins.
As the T-Birds were beating the Pandas two weekends ago, the Huskies broke their 2–0 losing streak to the Cougars — who finished top of the conference in their regular season — with a 1–0 win in game 1, and overtook the Cougars with an overtime win in game 2 for their second, a close win to qualify for the Canada West finals.
To add to the Huskies’ dramatic playoff story, their actual flight — one that was supposed to only last about two hours — was delayed by over five hours. The Huskies fans also set the scene by accompanying their team to Vancouver and cheering on their team within the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Center with cowbells and provincial and school flags.
But, the underdogs were outshined by the Thunderbirds within the first 20 minutes of game 1.
First-year forward Grace Elliott — born and raised in White Rock, BC — scored her second goal of the post-season to put UBC on the board four minutes and thirty two seconds into the first period; an additional goal by fellow first year Mia Bierd at 12:55 gave the T-Birds a two point lead.
Ashley McFadden, in her third playoffs for the T-Birds, added a goal with 33 seconds left in the period, to put the score at 3–0 at the end of the first.
Despite a two minute body checking penalty for UBC defender Rylind MacKinnon, the alternate Captain Shay-Lee McConnell scored a shorthanded goal 7:38 into the second period to put the T-Birds four points ahead of the Huskies.
After McConnell’s goal, Huskies' goaltender Camryn Drever refused to allow any more pucks to pass, but the Huskies never recovered and first-year goaltender Elise Hugens had her first shutout of the post-season.
The scoreboard at the end of game one read 4–0, with 43–13 shots on goal, in favour of the T-Birds.
The last time that the Huskies and Thunderbirds met — in late November 2021 at Merlis Belsher Place in Saskatoon — the home team took the first game and the visiting team took the second.
No doubt that this was what the Huskies and their fans were hoping for on Saturday in the Thunderbird Arena.
And the Huskies didn’t allow for a repeat of Friday night — notably, Drever blocked all 34 of UBC’s shots and there was no score at the end of regulation.
As a first year, Chanreet Bassi was on the ice when the Pandas scored their sole goal of the game in overtime and cut the T-Birds’ Canada West Championship run short on Saturday, March 22, 2020.
In her second year of eligibility this year, the forward from Lake Country, UBC finished the Canada West regular season as the top skater in points with 7 goals and 15 assists.
A little over a minute into first overtime, Bassi took possession of the puck, skated down the ice into the Huskies’ zone and around Saskatchewan defender Kendra Zuchotzki, then shot the puck into the right bottom corner past Drever.
“It was just like any other shot,” Bassi said. “We were just trying to get pucks in the net and it ended up going in, so I got pretty lucky. But [it was] a great effort from our whole team — there were just a bunch of good forechecks leading to it, so credit to this whole team.”
In their first playoff finals appearance since winning back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017, the T-Birds are Canada West Women’s Hockey Conference Champions.
“It feels kinda surreal — I cannot believe we’re here right now and we just won CanWest,” Bassi added. “It’s been a goal from day one and for the past five years, we’ve had upset over upset and just getting it done today is like the best feeling in the world.”
The next games the T-Birds play will be at the U Sports National Championships, hosted by the University of Prince Edward Island.
“We worked so hard for this,” said captain and graduating fifth-year Kenzie Robinson. “It’s been two years of just waiting to play hockey and we’ve just grown this whole time and we’ve earned it. I’m really excited.”