Vancouver, BC – It’s been a long time coming.
The UBC Thunderbirds have qualified for their second consecutive U CUP, but it’ll mark the first time in 44 years that they will play a game in the David Johnston University Cup after the 2020 edition was cancelled. They’re back in Nova Scotia, too, with plenty of unfinished business on their minds.
It was a historic year for the T-Birds. They started off the year with a bang, coming out of the pandemic, leading Canada West through December. Though they finished second at the end of the regular season, it was clear that UBC was much more than just a team carried by hot goaltending. They carried the momentum through into the playoffs, coming up just short against the Canada West champions Alberta Golden Bears in the finals. But the loss inspires hunger as the Thunderbirds fly out east.
Going into the national championships, the Thunderbirds will be headlined by their captain. Tyler Sandhu has led by example on and off the ice, tacking on a team-leading 24 points through 20 games. In his final season, the Richmond, BC native knows what a potential championship means to this program.
He isn’t upfront in the lineup alone. UBC boasts an excellent forward core, all of who can chip in offensively. Seven forwards have recorded double-digit point tallies during the regular season. Keep an eye out on Matt Revel, Scott Atkinson, and Jake Kryski to supply plenty of grit and goals.
The T-Birds also have two of the best offensive defensemen in Canada West. Jonathan Smart recorded 23 points as the second-leading scorer on the team, while Conner McDonald had a respectable 11 points in 20 games played. McDonald also led the team in +/- as a +19, so look for his pairing to be matched up against the top players in the country.
And while their netminder isn’t carrying UBC, he is still a massive part of their success. Rylan Toth has been the backbone of the Thunderbirds team through his five seasons, with this one possibly being his most successful. Posting an 11-5-1 record, Toth also recorded an impressive 2.34 GAA on a 0.920 SV%. He also led Canada West with four shutouts, with plenty of individual honours rolling in on top.
Toth will be looking to add some team success to his already impressive resume. The former Vancouver Canuck is going to be a big factor to how deep this UBC team can go at the U Cup. If there’s anyone that can steal a game at this level, it’s Rylan Toth.
Their opponents in the first round will be a fearsome test. The UQTR Patriotes are no strangers to the David Johnston cup, appearing in the tournament a total of 21 times, tied with Saskatchewan for second-most in the country. They romped to an OUA Championship title, topping the Brock Badgers to claim the third seed and the Queen’s Cup.
But going into the quarterfinals, that all will be out the window. It’ll be one game, one play at a time. And anything can happen at the U Cup. The UBC Thunderbirds will come out ready to play, and ready to topple giants.
Puck drop against the UQTR Patriotes in the U SPORTS National Championship quarter-final goes Friday at 7:00 p.m. AT/ 3:00 p.m. PT and will be streamed live on cbcsports.ca.
Cover Photo: Bob Frid/UBC Athletics