By Jeff Sargeant
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds (7-12-2) played a strong defensive game and worked hard in all three zones but fell 2-1 to the No. 2-ranked Saskatchewan Huskies (16-3-2) Friday night at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
Neither team gave up much while both UBC's Matt Hewitt and Saskatchewan's Jordan Cooke were strong in net with the latter making 14 saves for his Canada West-leading 15th win of the season.
The Huskies had a 2-0 lead going late into the second period when the Thunderbirds were awarded their first power play at the 15:21 mark. Late on that man advantage, Adam Rossignol deflected a Josh Connolly point shot for his third of the season to pull within one. Joe Carvalho picked up the second assist.
Both teams had power play chances in the third but both only managed a total of four shots each in the period. Hewitt was pulled for the extra attacker with less than two minutes remaining but the 'Birds were unable to test Cooke again as UBC falls to 5-5-1 on home ice.
"We need points," said UBC head coach Sven Butenschon who was pleased with his team's effort Friday night but wanted to see more finish considering the 'Birds continue to chase for a playoff berth.
"We were pretty good, we showed them respect but not too much. We played well systematically. They had a few spurts of zone time but we kept them to the outside. We were close but we didn't generate enough shots."
The T-Birds had an excellent start putting up the game's first five shots on goal while laying some big hits and earning some early momentum. But the Huskies struck first at the 11:33 mark as Wyatt Johnson finished a tic-tac-toe play for his third of the season from Jordan Tkatch and Levi Cable.
The Huskies doubled their lead just 71 seconds into the second with Jaimen Yakubowski's second. Saskatchewan out shot the T-Birds 16-5 in the frame and 30-15 overall but Hewitt was very strong between the pipes and would not be beat again.
Butenschon wants to see more of the physical play and hustle UBC showed throughout the game in Saturday's rematch.
"We need to continue to get on their defencemen fast and finish our checks," the head coach said.
Special teams were very strong for the Thunderbirds finishing 1-for-2 on the power play and killing off all four Saskatchewan chances. UBC has now scored five power play goals on their last 13 opportunities.
A Pronghorns loss to Manitoba Friday night has the T-Birds now three points back of Lethbridge for the final Canada West playoff spot with seven games remaining.
UBC has a chance to close the gap Saturday afternoon for the final regular season meeting with the Huskies. Puck drop at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre is 4 p.m. PT.