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WolfPack kills T-wolves' playoff aspirations

Graduating UNBC seniors have one more game to play Sunday at Masich Place Stadium
UNBC Timberwolves

acklustre opening 45 minutes and a couple of promising WolfPack attacks after the intermission, including a dangerous blast from Dylan Hooper that was stopped by a diving Daniel Zadravec, UNBC looked better organized in the second half. They connected on more of their passes and were rewarded with some good looks around the net. Unfortunately for the T-wolves, goalie Jackson Gardner was on his game, jumping high to snag streaking rainbows in the crease or using his reflexes to go low and swallow loose balls on his doorstep.

Abou Cisse came closest to breaking through Gardner’s defences with about five minutes left with a quick deflection of a crossing feed that went right into the goalie’s open arms. The T-wolves needed two goals at that point and they were hard-pressed to get one, considering the pressure they were under to score against one of the physically biggest teams in Canada West.

“It’s a tough result to take, of course, because we’re out of the playoffs,” said Zadravec. “But I felt in the second half we bounced back and played a bit more of a game we can be proud of. I guess we have no one to blame but ourselves for the season because we’ve had he chances and we’ve had the games to do the work and we haven’t. We’ve had the mistakes at both ends to have us here now and it’s a tough season because it felt like we were there, but it was our mistakes that held us back and not so much the other team.”

Gardner posted his third shutout of the season, forced to make three saves on the six UNBC shots. Through 11 games, the WolfPack have allowed just nine goals.

“TRU is a solid team and you have to be at your best to get goals against them, and I don’t think we were at our best today and I don’t think they were at their best, so it was a bit underwhelming overall,” said T-wolves head coach Steve Simonson.

“It’s been the story of our season, we’ve been right there every single game, a little error or a goal giveaway and we don’t find the chance we need or whatever. We thought we’d have a bit of miracle on the cards but it didn’t happen.”

Five ties in 11 games seriously dented the T-wolves’ playoff ambitions. Of the five games they’ve lost four were of slimmest of margins and those one-goal defeats came back to haunt the T-wolves in their return to league play in 2021, after a full season lost to the pandemic.

“When it comes to attacking, we played well this season, we scored more goals than two years ago,” said T-wolves midfielder Kensho Ando, whose consistent playmaking made him one of the assist leaders in Canada West and an all-star team candidate. “We scored a lot but we gave up too many goals, that’s the problem, I think.”

The T-wolves and WolfPack will meet again Sunday at 2:45 p.m. at Masich. The T-wolves (1-5-5) are out of the top-four, ranked seventh out of seven in the West Division, while the WolfPack (4-2-5) have clinched a playoff spot. Saturday’s win jumped them two spots in the standings into second place in the Pacific, two points up on the third-place UBC Thunderbirds, who are playing in Victoria tonight, and two ahead of fourth-place Trinity Western.

“We’re pretty excited (to clinch), it was a tough battle and we know when we’re coming in here playing UNBC they’ve got a good squad,” said WolfPack head coach John Antulov. “It wasn’t pretty but the guys battled through it and it was tough. We just needed to get those three points.”

The UNBC women were also in action Saturday, hosting TRU at Masich, and the teams played to a scoreless draw. Both came into the weekend already eliminated from the playoff race. UNBC goalie Brooke Molby made six saves for her first shutout of the season. Marissa Young had eight shots to handle in her second shutout performance of 2021.

“Today we played 15 players and nine of them are in their first year of eligibility, so we have a young squad but they’ve come a long way,” said T-wolves head coach Neil Sedgwick. “The big thing for me was we worked on some new things during the week and even at the end of the year when we know we’re not taking that next step (to playoffs) the players are still willing to learn and try new things looking towards the off-season and next year.”

The T-wolves took advantage of a strong south wind and had six shots on goal in the first half compared to TRU’s three on net. With the wind at their backs in the second half, the WolfPack outshot UNBC 5-0.

The Timberwolves (1-8-2) rank seventh in the West Division, two points ahead of eighth-place Thompson Rivers (0-8-3). With three points available in Sunday’s rematch (noon, Masich Place Stadium) and graduating seniors on either team playing the last Canada West games of their careers, there will be no shortage of motivation.