Veteran T-Bird coach Deb Huband says: “I watch Travis Green and I try to read his lips and see what he’s saying. It’s like I’m almost trying to coach through him.”

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The producers of the Vancouver Canucks’ Sportsnet televised games could help Deb Huband miss guiding her own team a little less with a few more pans to the bench to show hockey coach Travis Green talking to his charges.

“I watch him. I watch Travis Green and I try to read his lips and see what he’s saying. It’s like I’m almost trying to coach through him,” said Huband, the longtime bench boss of the UBC Thunderbirds women’s basketball team.

Athletes muddling along in practise-only mode and waiting for games to resume has been a familiar tale through the COVID-19 pandemic.

They have ample company in sports in that regard. Consider coaches. Huband took the helm of the T-Birds in 1995-96, moving up from an assistant’s spot. That puts her into her 27th year in charge of the program now and there’s understandable frustration in her tone when she says “you think you’ve been around the block a few times and you’re equipped to manage anything that comes your way and then something so unique and unexpected happens.”


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UBC’s Canada West Conference cancelled various 2020-21 winter sports seasons, including women’s basketball, on Oct. 15. There was some talk then of having exhibition games between nearby schools, but rising cases in B.C. had provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry bring in restrictions that forbid competition between rival teams and allowed only for practices with drills that promoted social distancing.

The last game that Huband coached was Feb. 21, 2020, when UBC lost a Canada West playoff semifinal to the Saskatchewan Huskies. The Huskies went on to win the Bronze Baby national championship on March 8 in Ottawa. U Sports began cancelling national events the following week, including the men’s hockey finals in Halifax and the women’s hockey finals in Charlottetown.

“Coaching games feels like a long time ago,” explained Huband, 64, who’s guided UBC to three national championships in her tenure and became Canada West’s all-time leader in coaching wins when she recorded her 338th in January 2020. “It’s a big part of the job. It’s a part that you love — coming up with a game plan and making decisions on the sidelines, and just the thrill of competition.

“There’s also seeing your athletes evolve and grow. I think that’s something I miss most this year. I watch our training sessions and I know how much work our team has put in and you’d love to see them show that against an opponent.”

It feels like we’re coming through the pandemic. It feels like the vaccines are taking hold. It feels like Huband and UBC will be having games in the fall. There will be a transition period for everyone with that still, she admits.


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“It’s going to be awhile before people are comfortable again on the floor in game situations,” she said. “They haven’t bumped or banged or bodied or infringed on someone else’s space for some time now. They haven’t played any sort of defence. You’re going to say that you want them an arm’s length away from their check and they’ll be 10 feet away.

“Some will be more fearful. Some will be less. It will be an individual thing. But we don’t really know. We’ve never seen this before. It’s like having a full team that’s missed a season rehabbing an injury. 

“People will be a little uneasy at first and feel a little off-balance as things are reintroduced. You can’t assume that you can just wave a wand and we’re all going to feel comfortable and automatically work through all our fears and insecurities.”

Huband is one of the best players this country has ever produced. She was point guard and captain of the Canadian team that finished fourth at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics and was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994. She also graduated from Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Que., in honours psychology and then received her master’s of science in audiology and speech-language pathology from the University of B.C.

She actually worked part-time with her speech-language pathologist job for her first three seasons as UBC’s head coach.

“This is one of the most challenging years I’ve had in my career,” she said. “You have all this experience and knowledge about how to run a program and a team, and I’m still open to learning new things. In the end, though, it’s demanded a whole other rethink on so much. How do you engage your team? How do you lead your team?

“I am pleased with how we’ve done. We’ve found ways to stay connected, stay motivated, stay hungry to learn. But, yeah, I think we’re all obviously looking to forward to getting a little closer to what we all signed up for in the first place.”



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