UBC Hockey’s thrilling NCAA weekend

The UBC Thunderbirds hockey program has become known in the past few years for hosting interesting pre-season hockey showcases, and 2019 was no exception. 

In 2018, the UBC women’s hockey team played a pair of games against the Shenzhen hockey team, opening their international outreach into the ever-growing game of ice hockey. Shenzhen, built of 2022 team China Olympic hopefuls got their first opportunity of the season to impress the coaches and set themselves up before their Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) season.

While the women were doing their international outreach, the men took part in the now-defunct Canucks Young Stars Classic in Penticton British Columbia, where they took on the University of Alberta Golden Bears for a trio of games. 

All that’s to say, intriguing early-season hockey is something UBC has gained recognition for across Canada.  

The 2019 showcase outclasses everything that came before it. The UBC Thunderbirds men’s team hosted the highly regarded NCAA hockey program from the University of Wisconsin in the NCAA. 

Jerret Smith vs. Wisconsin, Sept. 1, 2019

The key factor which made this appointment viewing for Vancouver hockey fans was the opportunity to see the Montreal Canadien’s 2019 NHL draft first-round selection prospect Cole Caufield, as well as many other skilled players in person. Other than the famous names sparkled throughout the roster, it was also a good litmus test for the thunderbirds to see where they stack up against one of the best college hockey programs on the planet. 

The Thunderbirds have gone through a rebuild of sorts this offseason, with seven key players graduating from the program. Jeff Connoly, brother of the Washington Capitals brett  Conolly and a reliable stay at home defenseman was one of the departing members, and so was Adam Rossignol, a hotshot scorer throughout his time with the blue and gold. Joining them in graduation were Michael Stenerson, Chase Clayton, Devan Fafard, Riley Guenther, and Raymond Grewal. All to say, some familiar faces were nowhere to be seen when the T-Birds opened training camp earlier this month. 

Coming in is an impressive recruiting class, and the series against Wisconsin gave them their first chance to impress third-year head coach Sven Butenschon. 

The two games went as expected, with both games finishing in favour of the Badgers. However, the Thunderbird’s showed grit, determination and even some skill throughout two entertaining nights in UBC. 

Maxwell James (left) and Cole Caufield (right) vs. Wisconsin, Sept. 1, 2019

The opening game was both teams first opportunity to gel in gameplay, and in front of over 1000 fans, neither side disappointed. Cole Caufield scored his inaugural collegiate goal in the opening period, pushing the badgers to the 3-0 win on Saturday evening. 

Although Caufield’s goal is likely far away from the most important he will score in his burgeoning career, it will be one he never forgets. 

The second goal also involved a Caufield although this time it was not the soon to be Canadien. Sophomore Brock Caufield got a powerplay to assist on the doal scored by 2020 draft prospect  Dylan Holloway to make the lead 2-0. The badgers topped off their lead at three early in the first period, paving their road to the 3-0 victory. 

UBC may have lost the game, but the lessons learned and value gained against such good competition was not forgotten by Butenschon. 

“it was a pretty competitive game and I was really impressed with how well they defended. They got sticks in there and blocked a lot of shots, very impressive.” the UBC head coach said after the game, displaying his pleasure with his team’s performance despite what the scoreboard had to offer. 

Sunday’s game is where the weekend hit its crescendo. The badgers came out with the win again, but the score of 7-5 is an unforgettable one for everyone who was blessed to witness it. 

Trailing 5-1 at the beginning of the third period, ubc fought back with an ecstatic exuberance to force the badgers to the brink of a loss. 

Matt Revel a third year on UBC who now finds himself in a veteran role was the offensive kick for the thunderbirds, opening the scoring in the third with a shorthanded goal and refusing to slow down. While the vet began the work, first-year T-Birds forward Jake Kryski netted himself a pair of goals, his first pair for the T-Birds. 

Quinn Benjafield vs Wisconsin, Aug. 30, 2019

The push continued for UBC all the way up to 6-5, but a late empty-net goal sealed the win on Sunday for Wisconsin’s second of the weekend.

Cole Caufield scored a trio of goals in the game for his first college hat trick and added an assist on top of that. I think we can expect this kid to light up the NCAA this season, and who knows- maybe some late-season NHL action. 

After the festivities came to a close, both coaches recognized what a wicked weekend they had, and how their respective teams can grow from their experiences. 

“It was a hell of an experience, really special to host a program as that” Butenschon said; a comment which  sums up the mood of the entire weekend

UBC continues their preseason next weekend with a pair of games against the Alberta Golden Bears, as they prepare for what they hope to be a much more successful season than their quarter-final elimination last year.

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