VANCOUVER, BC – The return of the Captain’s Cup sees the UBC Thunderbirds return to action on Friday against crosstown rivals SFU. It has been a long wait for hockey to return to campus, to say the least. The last time UBC took to the ice at home, it was against Mount Royal in their season finale on Feb. 8th, 2020. With their new season kicking off shortly, what can we expect from the T-Birds this season?
Not Many Familiar Faces
One thing that UBC had going during the 2019-20 season was the young squad that they had put together. Though the season produced some mixed results, from a disappointing Canada West campaign to a shock qualification to the University Cup, they’ve had the opportunity to grow together. While there has been quite a lot of change thanks to the two years passing by, UBC will have some veteran presence around.
The Thunderbirds will be dealing with quite a few key losses. Austin Vetterl, Carter Popoff, and Jerret Smith were all top scorers for the T-Birds in the 2019-20 season who aren’t going to return after graduating. Their production will have to be replaced if UBC wants to qualify for nationals.
A face that won’t be returning in blue and gold is goaltender Rylan Toth. The Saskatoon native was a key reason why UBC was able to make the dream run they did, upsetting the number three seed Mount Royal and number one seed Alberta along the way. Toth posted a sparkling 2.90 goals against average with an equally stunning 0.918 save percentage. Losing a stalwart like him in net will be huge for the T-Birds, as they look to replace him between the pipes
Tyler Sandhu should be someone that helps lead the Thunderbird forward core. The former Tri-City American led the team with 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points in 28 games. Returning for another year, he should be someone that appears in most of the scoresheets for the T-Birds.
Another player that will be depended on to step up is Jake Kryski. The former Calgary hitman will be in his third year with UBC and looks to take on a leadership role. In the 19-20 season, Kryski was the third leading scorer on the UBC lineup in Canada West play with 18 points in 24 games. They’ll be looking for more of that and then some with the departures the team is dealing with.
A Flood of New Talent
Though the season may have been cancelled, it certainly didn’t mean the Thunderbirds took a break. Nine recruits have been added to the team, all of them bolstering needs that UBC sorely needed to address. The T-Birds are welcoming forwards Scott Atkinson, Chris Douglas, Liam Kindree, Cyle McNabb, Carson Miller, and Jack Wismer, along with defensemen Matthew Smith and Matt Leduc. Goalie Ethan Anders rounds out the recruiting class.
Atkinson played his entire career with the Edmonton Oil Kings, captaining them in his last two seasons. He posted 79 points in 188 career games, a responsible forward with good defensive instincts that can chip in with an occasional goal.
Douglas also spent his WHL time with one team, in his case with the Red Deer Rebels. A big body at 6’2, 190 pounds, he adds a physical two-way presence that can also rip a clapper. Douglas tallied 43-55-99 in 250 games and looks to translate that to Canada West competition.
Kindree’s biggest asset is his speed and skill. Slightly diminutive when compared to his teammates, it certainly didn’t stop him from getting on the scoresheet, putting up 95 points in 162 career WHL games, split between the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Kelowna Rockets.
McNabb is a name that is familiar to hockey fans in the Lower Mainland. Having spent the start of his career with the Vancouver Giants, he’s since made appearances for the Kootnay Ice, Saskatoon Blades, and Medicine Hat Tigers. He returns to BC with a ton of experience in the WHL, and hopes to use his size and playmaking abilities to augment this UBC roster.
Miller posted a career best 28 points in 45 games during his last WHL season with the Victoria Royals. The 5’10 center has also spent time with the Prince Albert Raiders. A bit of a swiss army knife, Miller can be placed in nearly every single role, thriving with a high intensity motor that doesn’t ever give up.
Wismer is a very interesting case of an OHL player coming out west. Predominantly, the recruits for Canada West schools come from the WHL, but the schooling and hockey program in Vancouver drew him in from the east. Wismer certainly has talent. Posting an impressive 54 points in 62 games with the Flint Thunderbirds, his goal scoring touch will be a weapon the Thunderbirds look to exploit this season.
Smith boasts a very strong two-way game to bring to Point Grey. Spending his entire career with the Victoria Royals, he put up 34 points in 211 career games in the WHL. Smith’s awareness and defensive ability is probably best highlighted by the mere 42 penalty minutes that he picked up over the course of his Major Junior career. A safe, reliable presence, UBC can’t get enough of defensemen like him as they look to build a sturdy back end.
Leduc is a standout, to say the least. The 6’5 225 pound defenseman towers over his peers and adds that intimidation factor to his opponents. He’s physical and tough, and added 33 points over 174 games with the Spokane Chiefs. Another smart and responsible defender, there’s going to be a lot of huge hits dished out whenever opposing forwards come down the ice.
Anders will be vying against Dorrin Luding for the starting goalie spot. Having spent his entire career with the Red Deer Rebels, the 6’1 goalie looks to make an impression in his first year. Technically sound and a fierce competitor, Anders should be a more than capable backstop in Canada West.
All in all, a busy recruiting season for the Thunderbirds means that although there has been a lot of roster turnover, there’s a lot of exciting new talent for head coach Sven Butenschön to play around with. It’ll be a fun team to watch as they come together to challenge for the Canada West crown.
What to Make of this Team
It’s really tough to say how UBC will fare this year. Every team in Canada West has gone through similar struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic. From the cancellation of the season last year to reduced practices, each team will have their own challenges in a return to a relatively normal season.
That being said, the T-Birds are certainly not looking bad at all. They’ve supplemented their departures with good talent from their recruits, and certainly they’ll be expecting the returning players to lend a hand. It will take time for the team to gel, but it won’t be long before the Thunderbirds become a force in their conference.
2019-20 was an interesting year. UBC looked quite bang on average throughout the entire regular season, before qualifying for the University Cup for the first time in 42 years. They’ll be looking to avoid such an up and down year, and instead power through to a berth with consistently strong play. With the roster additions that they’ve made, I can see them being a good team this year, right up there competing with the best.
UBC has requested that no fans be in attendance this Friday, with live stream details to be released shortly.