UBC returns to final, Alberta crush Calgary as Canada West semifinals come to a close

TORONTO, ON – For the second season in a row, the UBC Thunderbirds are in the final, and they’ll take on the Alberta Golden Bears. After the only undisrupted season in U SPORTS men’s hockey, the top two teams from the regular season will battle for the conference title before taking on the national tournament. 

News, notes and a recap of the semifinals weekend that was. 

Alberta Golden Bears sweep Calgary, will host finals

(Don Voaklander)

The Alberta Golden Bears got back to the place they’re used to – the Canada West final and U CUP National Championship. After missing out in 2019-20, losing to the UBC Thunderbirds in the semifinals, the Golden Bears punched their ticket this weekend, sweeping the Calgary Dinos with relative ease. 

The Calgary Dinos upset the Saskatchewan Huskies in the first round of the playoffs, while the Golden Bears earned a bye to the semifinals. However, after an exhausting three-game set with Saskatchewan, the Dinos looked gassed and outclassed by the Golden Bears. 

Noah Philp continued his top form into the playoffs, scoring a goal and four assists as the Golden Bears trounced the Dinos in 6-2 in the first game of the series. Like his brother Luke Philp, he’s looking to bring the Golden Bears to the top of the national tournament. 

Luc Smith also shined brightly for the Golden Bears, scoring two goals on a Calgary team that couldn’t solve their defensive pores in the first game of the series. 

While the Golden Bears didn’t topple the famous Clare Drake Arena beer towers in Game 1, they certainly did in Game 2, powering to a 6-1 win and securing their spot in the Canada West final, where they will welcome the UBC Thunderbirds to Edmonton. 

Philp kept his stride from the first game, adding another two goals and an assist, finishing the two-game series with nine points to his name. 

For the Dinos, it came down to porous defence and goaltending that was not enough to bail them out.  Carl Stankowski and Brodan Salmond split the crease in the first game, allowing six goals on 46 shots, while Stankwowski allowed another half dozen on 30 shots the next night. 

Attendance figures stood out in both games at Clare Drake Arena, with 2,226 fans packing into the rink on Friday night, with another 1000+ crowd for Game 2 on Saturday night. With such turnouts in the semis, the rink will undoubtedly be rocking for the finals against UBC next weekend. 

UBC squeaks by MRU, qualify for U CUP

(UBC Athletics)

For the second season in a row, the UBC Thunderbirds knocked out the MRU Cougars to secure a spot in the Canada West final and U CUP National tournament and will have a shot at winning UBC’s first conference title in over 50 years. 

The T-Birds throttled the Cougars in the first game of the series, cruising to a 5-0 win, but the series got tighter from that point on. The critical takeaway was the T-Birds’  ability to close down U SPORTS leading scorers in Riley Sawchuk and Nolan Yaremko, in addition to Rylan Toth’s elite goaltending, which proved critical later as well. 

In Game 2, the two sides got off to a quick start, ending the first period tied 2-2 before going scoreless in the second. However, Riley Sawchuk and Nolan Yaremko linked up in the third period to win the game for MRU and push the series to a decisive Game 3. 

“That was a really gritty effort from our group tonight,” said MRU Head Coach Bert Gilling to MRU Athletics. “It’s really tough when you lose that first game of a series, and it’s a lot of mental warfare. Our preparation was good, there was just kind of a steely-eyed determination amongst the group today, and I thought we came out very business-like and did our job.”

Game 3 had everything: a crowd, great goals, and a goaltending performance for the ages. The Cougars opened the scoring through Levi Kleiboer in the first period, before UBC’s Scott Atkison tied the game in the second with a nifty finish from in close. 

With UBC’s Toth standing on his head between the pipes, stopping several breakaways and golden MRU chances, the Thunderbirds finally found their winning goal through senior Matt Revel, booking their plane ticket to Acadia and the U CUP tournament. 

Toth ended the game with 29 stops on 30 shots.

MRU applied pressure late in the game, but a mistake on a line change led to a late too many men penalty and the end of their playoff hopes. 

In 2020, UBC qualified for the U CUP, but did not get to play their quarterfinal game against New Brunswick, with the tournament cancelled midway through due to the initial wave of COVID-19 in North America. 

“It feels obviously pretty darn good, but it also feels kind of right after the way it ended for us in Halifax there,” UBC Head Coach Sven Butenschon told UBC Athletics. “Our guys just had a long couple of years, so it feels kind of fitting.”

The Thunderbirds advance to the final to face the Golden Bears in Edmonton, the team they upset in 2020 to qualify for the U CUP. 

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