T-Birds enter U SPORTS QF vs Nipissing with confidence, determination - petsitterbank

T-Birds enter U SPORTS QF vs Nipissing with confidence, determination

VANCOUVER – For the first time since 2017, the UBC Thunderbirds find themselves at the U SPORTS Women’s Hockey National Championships.

Set to take on the Nipissing Lakers in a quarter-final on Thursday, March 24 in Charlottetown, PEI, the appearance on the national stage is unfamiliar territory for the T-Birds, save for the team’s captain, Kenzie Robinsonwho was part of the 2016-17 UBC team that came away with the bronze medal.

UBC Head Coach Graham Thomas and Assistant mike summer both have multiple championship tournament appearances under their belts with a silver and bronze to show for it. There’s a confidence within the team that this time the T-Birds could return very well to Vancouver with a little extra in their luggage, with eyes keenly focused on securing the first U SPORTS banner in program history.

“The team seems ready to go, how we’ve been practicing, we’re refreshed and energized and ready to go,” said Thomas who makes his fourth national championship appearance as the T-Birds bench boss, qualifying in 2013, 2016, and the aforementioned 2017 tournament hosted by Queen’s University. “We just have this confidence and this belief in our group right now and we just kept working with that. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, next game, just another game, it’s the same sheet of ice and boards and all that, so just having confidence playing our game.”

That confidence has only built over the course of the season, cemented with a perfect 4-0 Canada West playoff record with a semifinal sweep over Alberta followed by a two-game series win over Saskatchewan to secure UBC’s fourth conference title.

But now at the national tournament, about as far from Vancouver as you can possibly get in this big country, everything is just a little bit different, not the least being their opponents in Charlottetown.

Thursday’s quarter-final against Nipissing marks the first-ever meeting between the T-Birds and Lakers. UBC drew the third overall seed among the eight teams competing at the Bell Aliant Center as the top Canada West representative. The sixth-seeded Lakers defeated Ryerson and the Toronto Varsity Blues in single-game elimination playoff matchups before falling to the eventual OUA champion Brock Badgers in the final over the weekend.

Given the lack of familiarity with their opponents, it’s all the more reason for the ‘Birds to just focus on themselves.

“That’s going to be our mindset,” Thomas continued. “Being able to travel there a little bit early we’re able to practice and organize so we can get there and get some practices under our belt on the sheet of ice we’ll be playing on. So just combined with all that and having a light mindset will help our group.”

While the only goal is to secure the program’s first U SPORTS title, there’s an apparent lack of excess internal pressure.

“There are a lot of things that are part of this and a lot of people cheering us on and it inspires you to play and compete at your best. But at the same time, we just can’t get too focussed on that and I think that helps. I think there was a little bit more stress and pressure on us in other years, whether it was the year we were top seeded or others. We’re just going to go in and compete and do our best and see what happens and just take it one day at a time. I feel trust in that process and I don’t feel stress around it and I believe our players don’t either. So, I think that’s a really good feeling going in this time around .”

Puck drop for the U SPORTS quarter-final against the Lakers is set for 3:00 pm PT Thursday at Charlottetown’s Bell Aliant Centre.

The game, and the entire tournament, can be streamed live on CBC Sports and CBC Gem.

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