Kelowna native Stephanie Schaupmeyer may be only in her first year with the UBC Thunderbirds women’s hockey team, but that doesn’t mean she is unaware of the struggles the program has had over the past years.
In fact it’s a motivator for the 18-year-old forward as the Thunderbirds continue a strong run through the CIS playoffs, heading to Calgary this weekend for the CIS Canada West final series against the University of Calgary.
So far this season the women’s hockey team at UBC has hosted and won its first ever playoff series and added another series victory last weekend, beating the University of Regina in a best-of-three semi-final series to advance to the Canada West final.
Schaupmeyer says it’s been a great run for the program, which had struggled for the past several years but has turned things around this year under Canada West coach of the year Graham Thomas.
“This is my first year coming in and I didn’t know what to expect, especially with the team coming off the seasons that we had,” said Schaupmeyer on Thursday, hours before departing for Calgary and the Canada West final. “But this year we have an amazing coach as our leader and some of our fifth year players have so much passion. As a first year, and I’m speaking for all of our first year players, we just want to do it for some of the older girls who never had the chance before.”
Schaupmeyer is one of three Kelowna minor hockey players hitting the ice for the Thunderbirds, along with all-star Christi Capozzi and fellow blueliner Sarah Casorso. A fourth player, Nicole Brown-John played at POE.
Schaupmeyer, who grew up in Alberta, moved to Kelowna in Grade 9, played a year of bantam in Kelowna Minor Hockey, two years with the Thompson Okanagan Rockets female major midget team and one year a the Pursuit of Excellence before heading to UBC.
“It’s always a transition going to play in a higher league,” she said. “Some of the girls I’m playing with are 22, 23-years-old. They have the experience and you can’t take that away from them so it’s definitely been a transition. But after a couple of games you just jump right in.
In 28 games with the T-Birds, Schaupmeyer had five goals and eight helpers and was a plus-four.
The Thunderbirds win last weekend in Regina actually qualified the team for the CIS Championship as the Canada West conference has two berths in the final so both UBC and Calgary will be attending the championship, no matter who wins this weekend.
But Schaupmeyer says they are focused on wining a Canada West title.
“We’ve already had team meetings on how our focus is not on nationals but to win the Canada West championship,” she said. “I think everyone is focused on this weekend. We’ve been breaking records for this program all year long. It’s exciting and now we can do it again this weekend.”
The accolades kept adding up for the UBC Thunderbirds this week. Not only are the Thunderbirds headed to the Canada West final against Calgary this weekend and CIS Nationals in Toronto the weekend after, but four members of the team have been recognized for their excellence by Canada West including Kelowna’s Capozzi who was named a Canada West all star.
Capozzi ranked second on the team in scoring for defenceman with 13 points, ranking sixth in Canada West. The fourth-year player set career highs with three goals and 10 assists and had a strong plus-seven rating. Capozzi has played in 97 regular season games and passed the 100-game mark this past weekend in a playoff game against Regina. She has been a major contributor through two rounds, tallying five points with a plus-six rating in five games.
UBC head coach Graham Thomas was voted as the Canada West’s Coach of the Year.
In his first year at the helm, Thomas led the UBC Thunderbirds to the greatest turnaround in CIS women’s hockey history. Thomas took over a team that finished with just one win in 2011-12 Canada West regular season and transformed the ‘Birds into one of the top teams in the conference.