Nearly a year after taking home the top prize in Canada West women’s hockey, the UBC Thunderbirds are back to their winning ways.
“We had a great year last year … [to] win that championship last year was so much fun,” said head coach Graham Thomas. “They got a taste for it last year so everyone’s working hard and everyone’s motivated.”
With a dominant 16–2–2 record, the T-Birds sit in first place and boast a conference best .850 winning percentage. They’re showing no signs of slowing down.
“We try not to focus on it. Just keep focusing on getting better and continuing to play a little bit better, a little bit sharper every game, but it's always nice being on top. I can’t lie about that,” said Thomas after Saturday’s statement 6–0 win over the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
Through the midpoint of the season, the Thunderbirds have found success by playing a strong checking game and capitalizing on chances when they’re given.
The forwards, led by top goal-scorer and dynamic rookie Cassidy Rhodes, possess tons of flashy skill and speed that allows them to create scoring chances. They also consistently win puck battles and feature an unrelenting forecheck. The Thunderbirds’ dangerous offence currently leads the conference in goals (69) while operating the second ranked power play at a success rate of 18.6 per cent.
The blue line, guided by skilled captain Rylind MacKinnon, plays a shut-down game that consistently stops opposing rushes. They also play that style of gritty hockey that fans love to see. Defensive prowess is key for this team and has translated on the scoresheet as they have allowed the fewest goals (28) while killing penalties as an elite rate of 91.5 per cent.
Simply put, there is no quit anywhere on this roster.
“We have the depth so you don’t know where the scoring’s going to come from. We’ve got strong defence, a really strong defensive core and good goaltending so you put all that together and good things are going to happen,” said Thomas.
All of those attributes were on display during this weekend’s sweep of the Huskies in which UBC outscored the visitors 9–1. In Friday’s game, UBC’s first after a 41-day holiday break, the team relied on its strong defensive presence and special teams play to carry them to the finish line. The T-Birds were a perfect 6–6 on the penalty kill.
The Thunderbirds followed that performance with an offensive clinic on Saturday that sent USask packing. The team took advantage of some key Huskies mistakes while staying very disciplined throughout. The Thunderbirds were also treated to an unreal goaltending performance by netminder Elise Hugens that included two highlight reel saves.
“We’re starting to feel that buzz … before you know it, we’re going to be in playoff hockey and it’s a whole other animal,” said Thomas.
This team has all-time potential and is laser focused on defending its Canada West title. Look for the Thunderbirds to be a real threat come playoff time.