T-Birds take on champion Bears 

University hockey game dedicated to Tony Tyler

Two of the top university hockey teams in Western Canada are set to face off in Whistler this weekend, the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds and the University of Alberta Golden Bears.

Like the recent exhibition game between the Burnaby Bulldogs and the Langley Hornets, proceeds from the event will go towards the Whistler Minor Hockey Association. The night has been dedicated as "Tony Tyler Night" in recognition of his contributions with minor hockey in Whistler. His son Sandy will drop the puck at a ceremonial face-off, and a Whistler Winterhawks hockey jersey bearing his name will be retired in his honour. Tyler, a Whistler resident for the past 17 years, died on Sept. 7 at the age of 50.

In addition to the memorial and charitable aspects, Kerry Dennehy believes that Whistler’s young hockey players will benefit from seeing some first class hockey.

"This is the best amateur hockey in Canada, played at a very high level. With our own hockey season about to start, and the kids already practising, this should build a little excitement for the players and the community," Dennehy said.

An unprecedented 15 Thunderbirds are returning players, and according to head coach Mike Coflin, they’re ready to establish themselves as a playoff team. Not only does the Whistler game provide them with a chance to bond as a team, it also gives them a chance to play one of the top teams in the country.

The T-Birds recently played the Vancouver Canucks prospects team, turning in a respectable performance in a 7-2 loss. The T-Birds are a quicker team than in the past, says Coflin, and looking to generate more offence while stressing good, defensive hockey.

The Golden Bears are once again golden, holding on to 19 players from last year’s team. They had their first game against the Edmonton Oilers prospects, which they won 7-2.

The Bears were the national champions in 1999 and 2000, and won Western Conference titles in 1997 and 2001.

Bears goaltender Clayton Poole, an all-Canadian last year, will be minding the pipes. The have strong, experienced offensive and defensive cores, including numerous NHL prospects. Look for Chris Ovington and Gary McLeod on defence, both coming in around six-foot-four and 215 pounds.

The two teams are playing at UBC the night before the Whistler game, and Coflin expects game two to be more intense than the first as players get to know one anothers’ numbers.

Following the game, the players will be fed by sponsor IGA and put up in hotels by the Whistler Minor Hockey Association.

The puck drops at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 22 at Meadow Park arena. Tickets are $5 for youth 16 and under, $10 for adults and $20 for families.

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