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Bears and Pandas hockey teams both advance to Canada West finals

Picking up the puck and throwing it out of the zone may seem like a good idea, but it really, really isn’t.

UBC Thunderbirds’ forward Nick Bardaro knows all about it. Not only did he throw the puck away, he also threw away his team’s season.

The Birds lead the Golden Bears 3-1 with under 10 minutes to go in game two of the Canada West semifinals on Saturday, until Bardaro took a penalty for, well, throwing the puck.

During the ensuing power play, Bears defenceman Jordan Rowley fired one past goaltender Eric Williams to begin the comeback. Bears forward Levko Koper tied the game five minutes later, then captain Kruise Reddick stabbed every single player on the Thunderbirds in the heart with just 33 second to go in the game.

And it all started with one guy throwing the puck.

Golden Bears head coach Ian Herbers said it was the resilience and experience of everybody on the bench that allowed his team to claw back and steal the victory from the Thunderbirds.

“It’s part of the character in the dressing room,” he said. “It would have been really easy for them to say “we’ll get them in the third game,” and pack this game in, but there wasn’t any of that in here.

“Kruise Reddick, the captain, stepped it up and made the big play and everybody else chipped in and it was a team effort. It wasn’t just one player, one forward, one defenceman, one goalie. We rely heavily on our team strength.”

With the win, the Bears sweep the Thunderbirds and move on to the Canada West finals for the third year in a row. They’ll host the Calgary Dinos who will be looking for some revenge after the miserable defeat they suffered in last year’s final.

Herbers said the key to taking down the Dinos is maintaining the gritty style that’s allowed them to be successful all season.

“Just stay with it,” he said. “You need to keep driving that net. It might not be a pretty goal … it might be a goal off their shin pad, off their skate, off their back side, whatever, we just need to keep driving the net, getting pucks to the net and stay with it.”

The Pandas hockey team just finished a Battle of Alberta of their own, as they swept the Calgary Dinos in the Canada West semifinals by scores of 4-2 and 4-3. The win came as a sigh of relief for the Pandas, who were upset in last year’s semifinals by the fifth-seed Regina Cougars.

Head coach Howie Draper said the loss last season has helped his team mature and become more determined.

“There’s a sense of resilience and determination that wasn’t quite there last year,” he said. “I guess you can chalk that up to experience. Maybe we had to go through that last year to get to where we are now.”

The Pandas will host the Manitoba Bisons — a team they had a difficult time with over the season. In four games, the teams exchanged victories, with each team winning and losing two games.

Draper said his team needs to focus on improving its fundamentals in what will likely be a much higher tempo series than the one they just played.

“After our first few weeks of the second half, we had a bit of a lull where we were winning games, but I didn’t feel that we were playing our best hockey,” he said. “I thought this past weekend was a step forward. I still feel that we have more, but we have to keep trying to get better where we’re able to compete in higher tempo games that we’ll face next weekend (against Manitoba) and possibly into nationals.”

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