By Aaron Martin – Special to VarsityLetters.ca

NAPANEE, ON – Coming into the 2017 U Sports Women’s Hockey National Championships as the top seed before falling 1-0 to the McGill Martlets in yesterday’s semifinals, some onlookers posted that the UBC Thunderbirds would be hard-pressed to get up for the Bronze Medal game.

Apparently, nobody told the ‘Birds that.

Amidst a throwback, physical affair against the Concordia Stingers, the Thunderbirds showed every ounce of the fire that had them as favourites heading into the national tournament, securing the bronze medal with a 2-0 win over their RESQ counterparts.

“We wanted to be there really, really badly, but so did seven other teams,” said UBC team captain Stephanie Schaupmeyer, referring to the championship final. “At the end of the day, we have a lot of motivation in and of ourselves, and it wasn’t a challenge at all to get fired up for [the Bronze Medal game]. We were ready to go, and we’re really proud to say that we’re back-to-back medallists.

A first-period powerplay marker from T-Birds forward Cassandra Vilgrain, as the forward buried a loose puck in front of Concordia netminder Katherine Puchase, held up as the eventual winner. Junior forward Logan Boyd added the insurance marker late in the final frame on another man advantage, with goaltender Amelia Boughn turned away the Stingers 21 times in the shutout.

“It was a terrific effort,” said head coach Graham Thomas. “These girls wanted to go home with a medal, and they did everything in their power to get that done today.”

(Ian MacAlpine/U SPORTS)

With the program’s second straight top-three finish at nationals under its belt, following last year’s silver medal, it’s safe to say that, at the close of its fifth year, the Thomas era is arguably the most successful in the Thunderbirds’ long and colourful history.

Yet, the man himself isn’t satisfied.

“We’re always looking to get better, always looking to add pieces where we can to try and take that next step,” said Thomas, pointing to the additions of Vilgrain, Boughn, and defender Alexa Ranahan, three NCAA transfers who were added to last year’s silver-medal winning squad. “We’re watching McGill and Alberta play in the finals, as heartbreaking as it is, and those are the two most decorated programs in the country. We feel we’re at that level now as a program, given the past two years, and we’re here to stay.”

And yet, as much as he is already looking forward, the end of another season also brings with it a time for reflection.

With eight fifth-year seniors on the roster, including five – Jenna Carpenter-Boesch, Emily O’Neill, Haneet Parhar, Nicole Saxvik, and Schaupmeyer – that have been with the ‘Birds since Thomas’ initial season back in 2012-13, the bronze medal marks an emotional end to a period of time that saw remarkable growth for both coach and players alike.

“In terms of setting the culture that we wanted in this lockerroom ad this program, I can’t say enough about the original five,” said Thomas of his graduating class, which also includes defenders Kelly Murray and Kirsten Toth, as well as forward Katie Zinn, all of whom Thomas brought in from other programs. “The other three seniors have all added something unique, something different, and we’ve created something special here over the past few years.”

Talking about her coach, Schaupmeyer was coy, given that he was sitting right next to her during the interview. Still, she was clear.

“He has this way of drawing out the best in every player,” said the captain. “He challenges us every single day, and he allowed us to challenge him, which is a big reason why we grew every year. Usually, I would say that I’m sad about leaving, but really, I’m excited to go and still be able to see what the team is going to do going forward with Graham still here.”

 

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