Playing with the pros

TBirds get a taste of NHL big time with ‘Bieksa’s Buddies’

From being photographed with celebrities to battling the professionals they normally watch on TV, Wednesday Oct. 17 was a night unlike any other for members of the UBC Thunderbirds men’s hockey team.

In front of 5,000 fans at the sold out Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, the Thunderbirds got to skate and score for charity against Bieksa’s Buddies, a team of National Hockey League players and local celebrities, led by Vancouver Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieska.

But the 8-7 score for the pros and the $200,000 raised are not the whole story. It’s the experience itself that was priceless for the young TBirds.

Kraymer Barnstable played in goal for UBC for part of the game, stopping all seven shots he faced, including one on Manny Malhotra on a 2-on-1.

“This game rates right at the top of my career because it was such a cool experience to be able to play for the charities and to play with the professional guys we’ve been practicing with,” said Barnstable.  “I’ll probably never experience anything like that for the rest of my career.  It’s definitely a great memory.”

UBC did have one player with NHL experience.  On Jan. 20, 2011, goaltender Jordan White dressed as an emergency backup for the San Jose Sharks against the Vancouver Canucks.

“During the San Jose game, I never saw any action so tonight, being able to make saves on the Sedins and company was very satisfying,” said White. He stared down 2010 NHL Most Valuable Player Henrik Sedin on the first shot he faced on the night and made the stop.

UBC head coach Milan Dragicevic thinks his program will benefit in other ways from facing NHL players.

“We practiced with these guys a few times and our guys picked up some tips,” said Dragicevic.  “Any time you play against teams that really move the puck like they do, you’re going to get better.”

An added thrill was Michael Bublé’s visit to the TBird dressing room after the second period. He posed for a photo with the team, no doubt making amends for mocking their iconic jerseys before the game.

Several local hockey greats also dropped in on the team: former Vancouver Canucks player, coach and general manager Pat Quinn; original Canucks captain Orland Kurtenbach, hall of fame broadcaster Jim Robson and UBC legend Mickey McDowell.

The game helped raise $100,000 for three charities, Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, the Canucks Autism Network and the Canucks Family Education Centre. Vancouver singing superstar Bublé matched that amount, bringing the total to a whopping  $200,000.

And what about the game itself?

Bieksa’s Buddies led 3–2 in the first period before the Thunderbirds scored five goals in a row, including four in the second period. Ben Schmidt and Nate Fleming each scored twice for UBC .

In the third period, though, the professionals took over, dominating the final 20 minutes of play and scoring five times.

The action ended with a 20-man shootout.  The final shot saw UBC put all three of their goaltenders—Barnstable, White, and Steven Stanford—in net to prevent Canucks forward Aaron Volpatti, from scoring.

After all that hoopla and glamour, the Thunderbirds are back on focus— aiming for the University Cup national championship, which runs March 14–17 in Saskatoon, Sask.

UBC’s final home games of the first half will take place Nov. 30–Dec. 1 against Regina at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

Fans can find full information on UBC home games at