T-Birds return home for final home series of 2022 against surging MRU –
VANCOUVER – With just four games remaining in the 2022 Canada West schedule, the UBC Thunderbirds are set to welcome the Mount Royal Cougars for their final home series of the calendar year this Friday and Saturday, November 25 and 26 at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
It’s been an up-and-down first half of the season for the T-Birds (7-5-2) who are coming off a rollercoaster weekend in Edmonton that saw them post a very impressive 5-3 win over the first place Alberta Golden Bears – giving UBC their first three-game win streak of the season – only to follow that up with a 9-1 loss the following evening, the team’s largest margin of defeat in 12 years.
Now, the ‘Birds face yet another big test against the fourth-ranked Cougars (10-2-2) who are riding a six-game win streak and sit just one point back of the Bears for first in the conference.
“We’re definitely not feeling too cocky or arrogant after that one, but getting a split in Alberta is always good, I think we just kind of gave it everything we had on Friday and the tank was pretty empty on Saturday,” explained UBC head coach Sven Butenschon. “We’re still looking for a complete weekend. We talk about how in playoffs you have to win two games on a weekend and we haven’t done that enough this year. Still looking for more consistency from the group and we have an unbelievable opponent coming into town.”
Friday night marks the first meeting between the T-Birds and Cougars since last year’s conference semifinal where UBC defeated Mount Royal in three games to advance to the Canada West final and a second consecutive berth at the U SPORTS National Championship. But plenty has changed for the ‘Birds since then, and now exactly halfway through the 2022-23 season, a large turnover and shift younger is leading to a significant adjustment period.
“We don’t have any fifth year guys, we have a couple fourth year guys so it’s been a pretty steep learning curve for most,” said Butenschon of his young forward group. “They’ve stepped up and they’ve done a great job and they’ve earned a bigger role and lots of ice, we’re just trying to find the unity and that feeling where everyone’s in the fight together and battling for each other. I think with a young group that’s pretty common. Last year we had a pretty good balance of fifth year guys and young guys; there were nights where the young guys were bringing it and there were nights where the veteran guys were bringing the young guys into the fight. We don’t have that this year and that’s what I mean when we’re trying to find ourselves.”
While the T-Birds look for that elusive consistency, they can certainly hang their collective hat on a solid season thus far on special teams where UBC ranks third in the conference on the power play at 27.1 percent.
Scoring, and depth of scoring, continues to be a strong suit for the ‘Birds with four skaters already in double digit points, led by forward Sasha Mutala’s 19, second among all Canada West rookies.
But there’s no question the ‘Birds will have their hands full with the Cougars who are averaging 4.36 goals per game and boast a roster featuring the top two scorers in the league in Riley Sawchuk and Nolan Yaremko.
“They’re always in the hunt, they’re always at the top of the standings and they’ve always relied on their top dogs, but this year it looks like they’ve got more of a complete team,” added Butenschon. “Their six defencemen are all getting lots of ice time and responsibility. Their depth up front, they’ve got grit, they’ve got toughness, they’ve got skill, their 5-on-5 scoring is elite, so they’re putting it all together.”
Puck drop Friday night at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre for what could be termed the most important series of the season thus far is set for 7:00 p.m. PT with Saturday’s rematch getting underway at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for both games are available now and both will be streamed live on Canada West TV.