T-birds finding their wings 

Golden Bears tough challenge for ‘homeless’ Thunderbirds

Tbirds Graham Sheppard muscles in a front of a Lethbridge player in a recent game. UBC is in Whistler this weekend to take on U of A Golden Bears in a double header. Photo submitted
  • Tbirds Graham Sheppard muscles in a front of a Lethbridge
    player in a recent game. UBC is in Whistler this weekend
    to take on U of A Golden Bears in a double header.
    Photo submitted

By Andrew Mitchell

The UBC Thunderbirds men’s hockey team knows it will be facing one of the top teams in the country in Whistler this weekend, as they face the Alberta Golden Bears in back-to-back games.

The T-birds are coming off a road trip to Alberta this past weekend where they split a pair of games with University of Lethbridge Longhorns, losing 7-5 the first night and winning 5-2 the second. The T-birds now have a record of 5-3, and one of their strongest teams in years.

The goal of the team is to make the western playoffs and qualify for the national tournament, something they’ll have to get past Alberta to achieve.

By way of comparison the University of Alberta Golden Bears, winner of the University Cup the past two years, are coming into Whistler with a record of 7-1. Undefeated until last weekend, the Bears lost to the University of Calgary Dinos for the first time in seven seasons.

But while the loss shows they’re not invincible, the Golden Bears are still the team to beat.

“If I’m not mistaken they’re probably number one in the country right now,” said UBC Thunderbirds coach Milan Dragicevic. “That doesn’t phase us, this year I feel we’re as strong as we’ve ever been. I would put our recruiting class from this year against anybody’s. We fully expect to be competitive and to give them a great game.”

As for the fans, Dragicevic guarantees fans will be impressed by the level of play.

“Between the U of A and UBC there are probably 35 Western Hockey League players on our rosters, and there are a lot of former Vancouver Giants on both teams,” he said. “The fans should be expecting fast, hard-hitting, and physical hockey, as exciting as it gets.”

The line to watch on the T-birds is Darrell May, Marc Desloges, and former Vancouver Giant Mitch Barley. For Alberta the top player is Ian McDonald.

“Just about every player has been a star on a major junior team, scoring 25, 35 points, and were stars in Junior A scoring 80, 90 points,” said Dragicevic.

“It’s all high intensity, every game is a four point game for us (in the standings), and every game is a must-win.”

Whistler has hosted Thunderbirds exhibition games in the past, but rarely regular season games. Part of the reason UBC Athletics decided to host the game in Whistler is the fact that the team is essentially homeless with their own arena under construction for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

While it has created a few challenges, Dragicevic believes the experience has been good for the Thunderbirds.

“We’re adapting to the fact that we don’t have a home base this year, that every game we play is on the road. I truly believe it’s made us a closer hockey team, because we spend more time on the bus traveling to practice and to games. We’re the only team in Canada to go through this, and we’re making the best of the situation and having fun with it.”

The UBC/Alberta double header takes place this Friday and Saturday, Oct. 20-21 at Meadow Park Arena, with the puck dropping at 7:30 p.m. both nights. The price is just $5 for adults and $10 for families. The Whistler Minor Hockey Association will be helping to host the game and doing the 50/50 draw to raise money for the league.

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