VANCOUVER — The picture, which adorned the front of the UBC athletics website on Sunday morning, was a simple one.
Eight Thunderbirds women’s hockey players, standing alongside each other on the ice at the Doug Mitchell Arena, all holding their sticks, and all wearing their familiar blue-and-gold game kits.
It’s the kind of picture that has been taken thousands of times before, yet for the school’s official sports photographer Richard Lam, its composition was rich and far from random.
Eight players, each set to graduate from the program’s playing ranks over the coming weeks.
Eight players, including five from the benchmark 2012 recruiting class which helped engineer one of the most stunning turnarounds in the recent history of Canadian university sports.
And so when the team’s head coach answered his phone Sunday in the midst of his team’s seniors brunch with a request to write a story about that photograph, Graham Thomas agreed, knowing that he’d be speaking to an even bigger picture.
“It’s such a unique group and all of them have their own stories to tell,” began Thomas of a group of players who all played a part in helping set virtually every program record over the past half-decade and help place UBC women’s hockey among the nation’s elite.
“They have all learned how to win, how to handle pressure, how to change the culture of a program,” he continued. “It takes a special group to affect change that significant.”
No. 1-ranked UBC’s disappointing 2-0 regular-season ending loss Saturday at home to Mt. Royal foiled its opportunity to set the new Canada West single-season victory record, yet their 23-4-1 mark gave the school its first-ever Canada West regular-season conference title and represents the best regular season in program history.
Indeed, there have been so many benchmarks established since Thomas left his job as an assistant at NCAA Syracuse to accept the UBC posting.
Of the eight seniors Thomas will reflect upon, five — Haneet Parhar, Jenna Carpenter-Boesch, Nicole Saxvik, Stephanie Schaupmeyer and Emily O’Neill — made up the very first UBC recruiting class back in 2012. Three others, also all included below, joined the program in subsequent seasons.
The so-called Original Five helped UBC set the CIS record for largest single-season turnaround ever.
UBC had won 38 conference games in the five seasons before Thomas’ first class arrived, and since, they have won 111.
Last season, the Thunderbirds finished one step away from its ultimate goal by losing in the CIS national final.
Now, with a much-deserved bye, the ‘Birds will hit the practice ice hard in advance of hosting a Canada West semifinal series beginning Feb. 24 at Doug Mitchell Arena.
And so, as his first group of recruits prepare for the final post-season run of their collegiate careers, here’s our conversation with Thomas, conducted, in the words of a photo caption writer: “Left to right.”
MELISSA GOODWIN (5-7 F, Forestry, Burlington, Ont.)
“I got the job here late (in the summer before the 2012-13 season) and I began to recruit her for the next season, and she is graduating in four years (with a major in forestry). The thing about her is that she plays so tough. She’s a PK specialist and a great two-way forward. But also, she has always been someone who just cares so deeply about all her teammates.”
KELLY MURRAY (5-7 D, Arts, Medicine Hat, Alta.)
“I knew her from a hockey camp I worked at when I was at Syracuse. She chose to go to Cornell, and it didn’t turn out to be the right fit for her, so she called me in the summer and she was able to come in right away and join us. Kelly was highly touted and she has had a great career. And the thing that has always really stood out for me has been her incredible competitive spirit.”
KATIE ZINN (5-8 D, Forestry, Coquitlam)
“Her commitment level to hockey and her fitness level is unique and she was my first transfer player at UBC (Penn State). She has always been one of the fittest players on the team. She is also the oldest player on the team and she leads in her own way. Also, she has almost always played as a forward, but this year she showed her versatility. She switched over to defence and she played the whole season there.”
JENNA CARPENTER-BOESCH (5-8 F, Science, Gray, Sask.)
“She has always been the character in the room. She is the one who makes everyone laugh, the one who keeps everyone upbeat and positive. She also has a great and caring family that has really helped support this team. On the ice, Jenna just has crazy legs. She has such tremendous speed and she plays tenaciously.”
EMILY O’NEILL (5-7 F, Arts, Oakville, Ont.)
“In hockey locker room lingo, she is our glue girl. What a great leader. She has ridiculous energy and she always brings that to the rink. That’s her character. She doesn’t get a lot of points, but she has scored some very big goals for us, really timely ones. What she has is infectious.”
HANEET PARHAR (5-5 F, Science, West Vancouver)
“She has worked for everything she has gotten in life and she is an absolute inspiration. What a fierce competitor. We use the quote about how ‘It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but size of the fight in the dog’ for her. She scored one of the biggest goals in program history (last season’s CIS semifinal winner in the eighth-round of the shootout) and she has gone from being a walk-on energy player who barely made the team to being one of our top players. She’s an inspiration.”
STEPHANIE SCHAUPMEYER (5-9 F, Science, Kelowna)
“She is just what we talk about in our meetings about the blue-and-gold standard. She set the Canada West record for most games played (139 of a possible 140 games). She is the all-round student-athlete with her leadership and her character and when she is going, the team is going. She epitomizes what a Thunderbird is. She takes charge. She is the boss.”
NICOLE SAXVIK (5-5, F, Kinesiology, North Vancouver)
“We’re all over at her house for the brunch. She was one of those players who decided to come to UBC when it was struggling as much as any team in the country. And she has brought a ton for us. She is second all-time in points for us (behind Tatiana Rafter). She is so smooth and so skilled. She is a quiet leader who carries a ton of heart.”
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