EDMONTON – Tyler Sandhu scored the game-winner 2:18 into the third period, sending the UBC Thunderbirds to the Canada West Final with a 2-1 win over the Alberta Golden Bears, in Game 3 of their CW Semifinal series on Sunday night.
With the win, the UBC Thunderbirds take the best-of-three series 2-1, and advanced to their first Canada West Final since 1978. With the Thunderbirds advancing to the Final, they also qualify for the University Cup for the first time since 1977.
“I don’t think this has sunk in yet, we were so focused on this game. Obviously going to the Canada West Final is a huge accomplishment, and we just want to keep playing this time of year,” said Thunderbirds head coach Sven Butenschon. “You don’t want this run to end, because it’s such a great group of guys. It’s a special feeling in there, and you don’t want it to go away.”
The No. 5 seed UBC Thunderbirds will play the No. 2 Saskatchewan Huskies next weekend in Saskatoon. UBC will be looking for their first conference title in program history, while Sask will be aiming for an 11th, and first since 2016.
The loss is the first in the semifinal for Alberta since 2012, and marks their first ever post-season series loss to UBC. The Bears were 7-0 previously in series’ against the Thunderbirds entering this weekend.
After an unbelievable 51-save performance in the ‘Birds 3-2 OT win in Game 1, Rylan Toth turned in another sensational performance on Sunday, stopping 40 of the 41 shots he faced.
“What it means to the guys in that room, and our coaches, I can’t even begin to describe it,” said Toth, who is now 4-2 this post-season with a .923 save percentage. “It’s an incredible feeling.
“I wasn’t too happy with my performance last night. I wanted to get back to how I was playing, be solid, and give the guys a chance.”
Austin Glover also scored for the visitors in the second period, while Steven Owre scored the lone Golden Bears goal. Bears starter Matt Berlin 17 of the 19 shots he faced in his second career post-season start.
Alberta came out of the gates hot, with Toth turning aside a two-on-none rush just 20 seconds into the game.
“He stopped that two-on-oh chance in the first shift. Are you kidding me? That’s insane!” said Butenschon of Toth. “He was in a zone. We blocked a lot of shots, and kept them to the outside. But he was the difference.”
Owre opened the scoring 6:44 into the first, beating Toth on a breakaway off a feed from Grayson Pawlenchuk.
Toth made 14 first-period saves, keeping the deficit at one after 20.
Glover tied the game midway through the second, beating Berlin on the doorstep off a great pass from Jake Kryski.
The Bears mustered just five shots in the second, as they struggled all period to penetrate the Thunderbirds defence.
Sandhu scored his first of the playoffs early in the second, beating Berlin from an awkward angle in tight.
The Bears, trailing 2-1, turned up the offensive intensity throughout the rest of the third. However, Toth was up to the task, which included absolutely robbing Cole Sanford on a cross-crease pass.
Toth made 21 saves in the third, preserving the Thunderbirds 2-1 win.
UBC and Saskatchewan will begin the conference final next Friday night, with Game 1 set for 7:00 p.m. in Saskatoon.