High Flying UBC Thunderbirds Emerge as Feel Good Story of CIS Women's Hockey

Mark StaffieriContributor IIFebruary 27, 2013

Photo by Rich Lam, Obtained from http://www.gothunderbirds.ca/news/2013/2/22/ICEW_0222133511.aspx
Photo by Rich Lam, Obtained from http://www.gothunderbirds.ca/news/2013/2/22/ICEW_0222133511.aspx

After a one-win season during the 2011-12 Canadian Interuniversity Sport season, the UBC Thunderbirds have written the feel good story of women’s hockey for 2012-13.

Having qualified for the Canada West conference playoffs with a season of 17-7-4, their status as the cinderella team of the CIS was all but assured.

Under the leadership of the astute head coach Graham Thomas, the Thunderbirds have managed to take the momentum of a postseason berth and gone to new heights. In the first round of the playoffs, the Thunderbirds swept the University of Manitoba Bisons, outscoring them by a combined score of 11-3 in the two game set.

A 3-2 triple overtime victory in the second game of the semifinals against the Regina Cougars (on Feb. 23) resulted in a historic victory for this ambitious team. Having scored the heroic overtime winner, Tatiana Rafter had the biggest goal of her young career.

Another postseason win (on Feb. 24) gave the underdog UBC squad their 21st win—not including preseason or tournament play.

Once again, Rafter made the difference, as she scored only 24 seconds into the period to put the momentum in the Thunderbirds favor. She would score again in the second period when the squad prevailed by a convincing 7-0 score.

For Thomas and his team, 21 would prove to be a lucky number as it gave the Thunderbirds a spot in the 2013 CIS national championships.

This championship shall be contested in a round robin format from March 7-10 at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Arena.

On Feb. 27, the accolades continued for the soaring Thunderbirds.

Thomas was named Canada West Coach of the Year, and is now in the running for CIS Coach of the Year. The former assistant coach with the Syracuse Orange of the NCAA did a superlative job of recruiting and injecting a positive attitude in the program. He spearheaded the greatest one season turnaround in CIS history.

Former Canadian national team member Danielle Dube was a 36 year old rookie for the Thunderbirds.

Standing between the pipes as their No. 1 goaltender, she accumulated a sparkling record of 15 wins compared to six losses.

Her goals against average was 1.61, while she accumulated 587 saves and two shutouts. Her save percentage of .943 was tops among all backstops in Canada West. For her effort, the mother of two was named to the Canada West First Team All-Stars.

Joining Dube on the Canada West All-Star team was Rafter and Christi Capozzi.

Both players were Second Team All-Star selections, the first for the program since 2009-10. Rafter was the Thunderbirds leading scorer, ranking 31st in the nation. Capozzi logged 13 points, which was sixth among defenders in Canada West and 16th among all defenders in CIS.

Thomas and the Thunderbirds have emerged as a team of destiny in one of the most exciting turnarounds in Canadian women’s hockey.

While the squad still has to cope with the defending CIS national champion Calgary Dinos in the Canada West championship finals (their first-ever appearance), it would be a big error for the Dinos to take this high flying Thunderbird team lightly.