In the last four years of Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) hockey, there are a small number of teams that have managed to capture the imagination of fans throughout the nation. Among said teams are the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. Through the leadership of Graham Thomas, a one-win team in 2011-12 was transformed into a two-time Canada West champion, competing at the CIS nationals.
Among the players who contributed to this magical era were Rebecca Unrau, who played in both of the Thunderbirds appearances in the nationals, while amassing over 100 career points. Raised in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, where she played for the Saskatoon Stars, the 2015-16 season served as the curtain call for the kinesiology major, bringing a proud finish to an otherwise stellar career.
Bringing closure to her Thunderbirds career was the all-too emotional yet obligatory senior night, a rite of passage for all collegiate athletes. As Unrau reflects, the proud presence of family resulted in an unforgettable event, truly bringing a new dimension to the meaning of teamwork.
“Senior night will be one of the nights I will remember the most from my five years at UBC because being able to play in front of your family members, to me, makes me feel like I accomplished something by having their support. My sister(Nicole); her husband(Dwight); my nephew(Bohden); and my parents(Lucy & Garry); missing my brother and his wife (Nathan & Nicole) all flew out to Vancouver to support me through the end of my hockey career.”
Statistically, Unrau was a marvel for the Thunderbirds, as the club boasted a 14-6 mark when she logged at least one point. During the regular season, the program was 16-9-3 overall, enjoying a number eight position in the national polls.
Employing the consumption of coffee as a pregame ritual, Unrau also adds hair and makeup among such rituals, adding to her confidence. Such efforts definitely paid positive dividends. Compiling a solid 24 points in 28 games played, she ranked in the top 10 in the Canada West scoring race.
Unrau would also rank in the top five for most goals scored in the conference. On the Thunderbirds, she tied with Kathleen Cahoon for most goals scored with 12. Meanwhile, she only trailed Canada West Second Team All-Star Kelly Murray in assists, who led the program with 15.
Along with five multi point efforts, Unrau would manage five game winning goals, ranking second in the Canada West conference. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that Unrau would log game-winning goals in back-to-back games, starting on November 8 at Calgary and culminating in a November 14 home game against the conference powerhouse Alberta Pandas.
Such an effort was highlighted by the fact that from October 18 to November 21, Unrau amassed an eight-game point streak. Registering nine points on the strength of five goals, she would also log points in five of her last six career games with the Thunderbirds.
Of note, her final regular season goal was scored on February 7 in 5-2 win over Manitoba. An assist in a 3-1 road win against Alberta signified her final regular season point. For her efforts, she was recognized as a Second Team Canada West All-Star. Despite the awards and honors, one element that cannot be measured is the feeling of pride that Unrau feels in having contributed to such an incredible era in Thunderbirds hockey.
“This program had their ups and downs throughout the years I have been here, but you can only see the incline that this program is doing. Our team defines Resilient, Respect, and Relentless; those three R’s demonstrate how much time and effort this program puts in everyday. I am proud of the girls that stuck through the rough times to allow for this program and this particular team to prove what we are made of, specifically this year.”
Qualifying for the gold medal game against Les Carabins de Montreal in the CIS Nationals, it marked an unprecedented first for the program. To be part of such a historic run was an exceptional point of pride for Unrau.
On the road to history, Unrau would make her presence felt twice. In the deciding game of the Canada West final, which saw the Thunderbirds pitted against Manitoba, she would combine with Logan Boyd to assist on Kelley Murray’s third period goal, which would stand as the game-winning tally. As a side note, Murray would also score the game-winner in overtime against Guelph in the CIS semifinals.
In the 4-2 quarterfinals win at the nationals against the McGill Martlets on March 17, one of the most successful teams in CIS women’s ice hockey history, the win would also Unrau the chance to make her own history. At the 12:02 mark of the first period, she gained an assist on a goal by Hannah Clayton-Carroll, which was her first-ever goal in CIS play.
Although the outcome of the gold medal game resulted in an 8-0 loss to the Carabins de Montreal, there were many things to be proud of. From the outset, they were one of two teams (including Saint Mary’s) in this year’s CIS nationals to have gone from a one-win season to national championship contention. In addition, the silver medal represents the first podium finish in hockey for UBC since 1963. Such moments add to the jubilation of a proud career for Unrau.
“Honestly when I came to UBC I did not know what to expect because the team was not as successful as people would hope their new team would be! We finished off our first year with 1 win, to now doing a full circle and coming from the bottom to now 2nd in CIS shows the commitment and dedication everyone in this program has.
I was extremely thankful for my teammates who gave it their all every single game to get us to that situation. The National Championship Game may have not ended the way we wanted it to but I can only say good things about the journey as most people do not get the chance at competing at that level of hockey.”
While Unrau prepares for the next chapter, she remains confident knowing that the future of UBC women’s hockey is a solid one. A solid recruiting class in her final season featured international players such as Norway’s Mathea Fischer (a Canada West All-Rookie selection) and Switzerland’s Laura Trachsel, along with local recruits Clayton-Carroll and Mikayla Ogrodniczuk.
The golden ambitions also involved impressive NCAA transfers such as Ohio State captain Alexa Ranahan, Cornell goaltender Amelia Boughn, and second generation player Cassandra Vilgrain, who recently played at New Hampshire. With the speculation that assistant coach Dom DiRocco may also stand between the pipes for UBC, Unrau leaves the program knowing that her efforts are part of a legacy that is poised to extend.
As Unrau reflects on her UBC career, discussing the aspects that she will miss, the most relevant may be the character that the team displayed in a season that was eventful. From the fear of Danielle Dube suffering a career-ending injury to an improbable postseason triumph, Unrau was also part of one of the most unique games in not just the season, but perhaps the decade.
Unrau’s assist on Kathleen Cahoon’s game tying goal in a January 29, 2016 game against Lethbridge may have been one of the most unique in her career. Although Lethbridge scored in double overtime, the game was protested by UBC as an officiating error resulted in teams changing ends between the overtime periods.
The following day, the second period would be replayed, as UBC would emerge victorious in a shootout. In the end, the Canada West Appeal Panel reinstated the game’s initial result. Despite this decision, Unrau and her teammates refused to wallow in self-pity, motivated to play for each other and make their mark in the postseason. It is such a display of character that proved to be the Thunderbirds’ finest hour, representing the spirit of determination that are among the elements that Unrau shall miss.
“The thing I will miss about playing for the Women’s Ice Hockey team at UBC is the competition that every girl brings to practices and games. The dedication that everyone wants to be the best and to push everyone brings so much more joy to the game, which we dedicate our lives to.
The thing I will miss about the atmosphere of the team is the feeling of family, everyone hears that when you entire a team you will instantly have a second family, but this specific team I have felt the family aspect the most in my entire career.
We went for a ride this year going up and down, either way we traveled we stuck together and no one was left out. That is the true sense of family when everyone on the team has each others back, joking around and feeling comfortable enough to be vulnerable in front of 20+ girls makes a team be great.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from: http://www.canadawest.org/sports/wice/2014-15/contrib/20150301UBCMan