After a one-win season during the 2011-12 campaign, the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds has given Graham Thomas the task of rebuilding the program. Having inherited the team from former head coach (and Toronto Lady Blues hockey legend) Jen Rawson, Thomas is ready to prove he is up to the task.
One of his biggest contributions to the game was his work in helping to build the Syracuse Orange women’s ice hockey program in NCAA Division I. Having played in the College Hockey America conference, Thomas served as the assistant coach to Paul Flanagan. “I enjoyed Syracuse and would not have changed it. Paul was a great mentor, a great coach, and a good friend. We started the program from scratch. They did not even have a puck. It was a great experience to help build and see it grow from the start.”
He credits Flanagan as a mentor in his coaching career. “Paul taught me about recruiting, running a program. As I watched the program grow, I was also the recruiting coordinator. The class Syracuse brought in this year; I put my stamp on it.” A great point of pride for Thomas was how Syracuse was one of the fastest teams to get ranked in the Top 10 national polls (since its inception). “We came a long way in a short period of time.”
With the UBC Thunderbirds, Thomas is optimistic he can duplicate that success. “It would be great if we could have an LA Kings run. To have to almost rebuild from scratch, we are not that far behind. We also have Danielle Dube (former Canadian national team member) who is going to help bring us experience in back of the blueline.” A huge addition to the goaltending corps, Dube won the gold medal with Canada at the 1997 IIHF Women’s World Championships, held in Kitchener, Ontario. “Dube has a lot of poise and confidence in the net,” stated Thomas.
Of all his players, the biggest coup may be the acquisition of highly rated goaltender Danielle Lemon from Madison, Wisconsin. “She had committed to Wisconsin, but there were some academic things. She is a dual citizen (of Canada and the US) and we brought her here. She is very solid in the pipes and adds to the international dynamic we have. There are some really good players here.”
Another player that Thomas speaks highly of is Stephanie Schaupmeyer. The 5’9” forward attended the Pursuit of Excellence Academy and hails from Kelowna, BC. “We believe that she could win the CIS Rookie of the Year Award. She was a Team BC forward and can score. She plays defense and is a solid two-way player. Genevieve Carpenter-Boesch is another player we have. She is capable of changing the culture and making everyone play better.”
“Cailey Hay, Emily Grainger, and Kaylee Chanakos are going to be good leaders for us. Christy Capozzi and Sarah Casorso are part of a strong blueline. We picked up Kelsey Halvorson too. While we continue to work on our depth up front, these are amazing girls that we have brought in,” Thomas added enthusiastically.
Despite the one-win season that Jen Rawson had in her only season (2011-12), Thomas still commends Rawson on her effort. “Jen Rawson and her staff did a really good job recruiting. We are stronger that way. She made a strong impression and left the program heading in the right direction.”
Thomas can also attest that UBC’s dismal season was partly attributed to playing in one of the toughest leagues in CIS women’s hockey. “Give credit to the Canada West division, it is really strong. The University of Alberta is very good, and Lethbridge is getting better. There are very close games. UBC (in 2011-12) had a lot of injuries and two freshman goalies, a whole lot of things went into it.”
As UBC was ranked as one of the Top 25 Universities in the World, Thomas is enthusiastic about the future. “These players have character and they are all coachable. There is no reason why we should not be one of the better programs this year. I cannot see it taking a long time.”
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated