The UBC women’s hockey team took home the third-place prize after competing at the U Sports national championships in Montreal on March 19.
It was the second time in program history the team has been awarded bronze.
“It just wouldn’t have felt right if we walked away from here without anything after the amazing season we had,” said head coach Graham Thomas in an interview with UBC Athletics. “I’m just so proud of this group.”
UBC entered the tournament as the Canada West champions after having defeated the Mount Royal Cougars in a thrilling three-game series at home.
The national tournament certainly lived up to expectations as what transpired was a controversial and dramatic three games that showcased the best of what university hockey has to offer.
The ‘Birds’ quarter-final game against the St. Francis Xavier (SFX) X-Women was a real back-and-forth affair that saw each team refuse to give an inch offensively. That was until midway through the third period when controversy struck.
Amid a scramble deep inside the UBC zone, starter Elise Hugens inadvertently dislodged her net from its pegs barely a second before what would have been a game-tying goal for SFX. The X-Women tried to plead their case to the officials but were unsuccessful.
On the ensuing play, the ‘Birds took it the other way and were the beneficiaries of some good luck as a Sophia Gaskell point shot was deflected home by an SFX forward to send them up 2–0.
Understandably incensed by this turn of events, SFX erupted for two quick goals just minutes later to send the game to overtime.
Not to be deterred by the change in momentum, it was Gaskell again who played the hero as her powerful point shot found its way to the back of the net and sent the ‘Birds into the semifinal.
“We just battled back so hard, and we wanted it so badly,” said Gaskell to UBC Athletics. “We got out there and did it.”
In Saturday’s semifinal, the ‘Birds faced a tough test against the defending national champion Concordia Stingers.
The ‘Birds ran into a brick wall of a Stingers' defence and were the victims of some sharp passing that translated into goals.
The Stingers took advantage of special teams as all three of their goals came on the man advantage.
It was a well-played game by both sides but some missed chances and a few too many penalties eventually sank the ‘Birds.
“You had two conference champions playing in a semifinal, two really good teams,” said Thomas to UBC Athletics. “I'm really proud of our players. They played extremely well and battled really hard.”
In Sunday’s season finale, the ‘Birds refused to go home empty-handed. An early powerplay goal by Annalise Wong and some nice tenacity from captain Rylind MacKinnon set the tone for what would be a thrilling bronze matchup against the host University of Montreal Carabins.
Through two periods, it was all UBC as the ‘Birds really committed to playing a tight defensive game in front of goaltender Kate Stuart.
Midway through the third though, the ‘Birds began to unravel. They were up 2–0 until a highlight reel goal by the Carabins seemed to ignite the home side’s offence. The Carabins quickly followed that up with another marker that injected a ton of energy into the building. For most of the third, the momentum was heavily on the Carabins’ side.
Luckily, the ‘Birds have a flair for the dramatic. In the dying minutes, a Kennesha Miswaggon point shot found its way onto the stick of forward Ireland Perrott, who was able to stuff it home passed the Carabins netminder.
That tally proved to be just enough as the ‘Birds managed to hang on and secure the bronze medal.
"It was a little extra special beating them for our alumni, for our supporters, for our seniors against Montreal in their home rink, and that's not easy to do,” said Thomas.
“It definitely is a special one.”
Three stars of the tournament
3. Annelise Wong
Throughout the weekend, Wong did what she does best. The second-year forward moved the puck well and provided some nice versatility on the special teams. Her dogged forecheck was a real asset that helped the ‘Birds create a number of scoring chances. She had the opening goal in the bronze medal match and picked up the Nike Player of the Game award in the semifinal loss to the Stingers.
2. Sophia Gaskell
Gaskell was a force to be reckoned with on the ‘Birds blue line. Not only was she solid in her defensive play, but her heavy shot proved to be a serious threat all weekend. She also manufactured a lot of chances in the offensive zone with her strong skating and ability to create space. She had five points through the three games.
1. Rylind MacKinnon
It’s easy to see why MacKinnon is the captain of this great Thunderbirds team. She played an outstanding 200-foot game and was instrumental in just about everything that went well for this team. On the back end, she blocked shots while clearing opposing forwards away from the ‘Birds’ net. She contributed to the offence with hard-fought goals in the quarter and semi-final games. MacKinnon picked up a Nike Player of the Game award in the win over SFX.