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New look Thunderbirds to face Canada’s top program

Double-header in Whistler

By Andrew Mitchell

For true sports fans, what makes the sports and athletes so compelling is the larger story in which the individual games takes place. The history, the rivalries, and everything that happens before, during and after the game is what it’s all about.

It’s no different when the UBC Thunderbirds men’s hockey team hosts the Alberta Golden Bears in a doubleheader in Whistler Oct. 20-21.

The Golden Bears have had the best varsity hockey team in Canada the past two years, winning the University Cup both times. Since 1994-95, the Bears have won the University Cup a total of five times.

This year the team has nine new players, five forwards and four defencemen, with several players graduating or using up their eligibility.

So far that doesn’t seem to make much of a difference to the program — the Golden Bears have won their last four games, outscoring opponents 28-11. The Bears’ only loss this season came at the hands of the Edmonton Oiler Rookies in an annual exhibition game.

But while Alberta is a powerhouse looking to retain its dominant spot in Canadian hockey, the UBC Thunderbirds, under coach Milan Dragicevic, have spent the last few years building a team that can not only lead the West, but also qualify for the nationals. The team has recruited some top players out of the junior system. There are 10 new names on the roster, including former Vancouver Giants standout Mitch Bartley and Jeff Lynch of the Spokane Chiefs, but 14 players are in their third, fourth or fifth year with the program.

But while the team has come a long way, some unfortunate timing has created an uphill road for the Thunderbirds this season. The T-birds are essentially homeless, moving from rink to rink for home games and practices, while their own arena is being rebuilt for the 2010 Olympics.

Still, the T-birds bad luck has turned into good luck for Whistler by bringing two of the top collegiate teams — almost all former Junior A players — to Whistler for two nights.

The games against the Golden Bears are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with tickets just $5 for adults and $10 for families. The Whistler Minor Hockey Association and Whistler Skating Club have been invited to host fundraisers at the games.