Calgary, AB - The cinderella story continues for the UBC Thunderbirds women's hockey team as they defeated the defending CIS Champion Calgary Dinos 5-2 Sunday night to win the best-of-three series 2-1 and capture the first ever Canada West Championship in the program's history.
"Where do I start, this is absolutely unbelievable," said UBC first year head coach Graham Thomas. "This is the feel good story of the year."
Less then 24 hours after winning in double overtime to extend the series to a third and deciding game, the Thunderbirds took charge in the second period scoring a pair of goals to lead Calgary 4-1 through 40 minutes. UBC successfully chased Second Team Canada West All-Star Amanda Tapp from the Dinos net as she allowed four goals on 13 shots.
"We could tell they were starting to get frustrated in the second period, starting to get away from their game plan and playing more individually," said Thomas. "We were able to take advantage, score two huge goals and that in the end was the difference."
UBC opened the scoring on the power play, 4:59 into the first period, as fifth year co-captain Kaitlin Imai potted her second goal of the post season to put the visitors up 1-0. Elena Lovell would tie the game just under nine minutes later, but before the period was out Tatiana Rafter restored the Thunderbirds lead, scoring her playoff leading sixth goal with 1:37 left in the first period to put UBC up 2-1 through 20 minutes. Shots were 9-8 for UBC in the period.
Unwilling to sit back on a one goal lead, the Thunderbirds continued to press and eventually would be rewarded. Nikola Brown-John and Rebecca Unrau scored 3:39 apart to make it a three goal cushion for UBC. That would spell the end of the night for Calgary goaltender Amanda Tapp, who gave up four goals on 13 shots. 4-1 is how things stood after two periods of play.
In the third period Calgary made it a two goal game with 9:02 left in regulation, but that is as close as they would come. Danielle Dube and UBC shut the door rest of the way as Kaitlin Imai added an empty netter to seal the deal and give the Thunderbirds a 5-2 victory.
UBC finished the game 2-for-7 on the power play, while Calgary went 0-5. Final shots were 30-21 for Calgary.
Danielle Dube stopped 29 shots in the victory, including 11 in the final period earning first star honours.
With the loss, it marked the first time since January 2012, the Dinos have lost back to back games. The Thunderbirds kept the Dinos big guns in check all night. Canada West MVP Hayley Wickenheiser had zero points and was a -1. Iya Gavrilova, who had six points in the first two games of the series, was pointless on the night and a -3.
"The game plan was to wear down Wickenheiser and Gavrilova, take away their time and space and above all frustrate them," said Thomas. "They play big minutes, but were able to do it successfully and keep them off the scoresheet."
It is the first ever Canada West Championship for the UBC Thunderbirds women's hockey program. This is season has been nothing short of remarkable as the 'Birds have gone from just one win in 2011-12 to conference championship in 2012-13. They won 16 of their last 19 games.
"This team is an inspiration," said Thomas. "They epitomize the word team. They believed so much in each other and had one common goal, to make their university proud, to bring home a banner and bring respect to the UBC women's hockey program."
The Thunderbirds will now to travel to Toronto for the CIS Nationals beginning Thursday March 7. The six team tournament features Toronto (host), Queen's (OUA Champions), Montreal (RSEQ Champions), St. Francis Xavier (AUS Champions), Calgary (Canada West Representative), and UBC (Canada West Champions).
"We are looking forward to nationals and the challenge," said Thomas. "Our motivation is simple, we have less than a week to play together, in fact three more games as a team, and I think more then anybody else we know anything can happen."