Were They the Best? A Look Back at the UBC Thunderbirds

Vancouver, BC- The UBC Thunderbirds may have been the best U SPORTS school this year. All but one of the teams had very strong seasons in a year that can only be seen as a success for the Vancouver school. However, while there were a great number of top stories, we have to narrow it down to two.

Women’s Soccer

Please, tell me which team deserves to be here, I’ll wait…

Oh, you couldn’t think of any? Yea, that’s because the UBC Thunderbirds women’s soccer team were the best in Canada. 

Women's soccer 2019 National championship banner
UBC with thew U SPORTS Championship banner (Rich Lam/UBC Communications)

They were not the most dominant team in the regular season, finishing behind the Calgary Dinos and Trinity Western Spartans, but it was in the playoffs where things began to heat up. 

UBC head coach Jesse Symons was in his third season as head coach, and he had really gotten to know what it takes for a team to win in Canada West. For him, it was a year of making sure the players knew their roles and what they had to do to be successful. That’s exactly what he and the players did. 

Once the playoffs began, everything began to click. The defensive structure that they worked on all season fell perfectly into place, they scored when they needed to, and in the end they only conceded once throughout the Canada West playoffs and U SPORTS national tournament. Although the one goal allowed vanished their Canada West championship hopes, it only gave them more motivation at nationals.

With the national tournament taking place at the University of Victoria, the Thunderbirds traveled the second least distance of all the teams, with the least being Victoria. UBC stuck to their defensive prowess through the tournament and ended up winning without conceding a goal. Although defensive football is not heralded as an exciting brand, it was one that worked for the  Thunderbirds and ended with a trophy in their hands. 

The Thunderbirds have only built on their success, having brought in a highly touted group of recruits ahead of next season, all of which you can read about here. 

Men’s Ice Hockey

Nobody expected the men’s hockey team to do what they did. Throughout the year, the Thunderbirds were mediocre, but after sneaking into the playoffs, they became one of Canada’s best sporting stories of 2020. 

UBC somehow, someway, managed to make it to the Canada West finals. They took down the Mount Royal Cougars in the opening round of the playoffs, a series in which they rebounded after conceding an MRU tying goal in the last seconds, only to win in overtime. They rode the hot glove of goaltender Rylan Toth to knock out the top-ranked Alberta Golden Bears in the semi-finals. Although the Thunderbirds ultimately fell in Saskatchewan, the run to the finals and qualification for nationals was remarkable. 

MHKY: Toth named WHL Grad of the Month
Rylan Toth against Alberta (Canada West Communications)

Making the run crazier was that they did it without playing a home game. Although it would have been a morale booster to play in front of a probable home crowd, the T-Birds showed no issues as visitors. 

The Thunderbirds never got to see what could have been, since they were never able to drop the puck at the national tournament, however, if they were to have taken down the legendary UNB Reds, who they were scheduled to play, they would have solidified themselves as the best story in 2019-20 U SPORTS. 

It was a heartbreaking end to a historic season, but the Thunderbirds are preparing to make another go of it next year. At this point, they have brought in the likes of Tian Rask Logan Foster from Canadian Junior “A” leagues, as well as defenceman Connor Macdonald from the WHL. 

Did the UBC Thunderbirds have the best season out of all U SPORTS schools? That’s a point that has some merit. No other schools captured the hearts of fans countrywide as the T-Birds did and although only two stories were picked here, you don’t have to look far for more. There’s Men’s Basketball and Jadon Cohee, Women’s Basketball and Deb Husband, plus many more great moments from the Point Grey campus. All that said, 2019-20 was a fantastic year for the UBC Thunderbirds.

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