Sunday, 7 October 2012

Bisons Meet Beavers

Having started the season by dropping their first two Canada West games by a combined 11-4 score, and then dropping an exhibition game against the University of North Dakota, the University of Manitoba Bisons men's hockey team needed to find some positives in the last exhibition game of their cross-border roadtrip as they prepared to meet the Bemidji State Beavers on Sunday. There were some positives in their game against UND the night before, but these were cancelled out by some glaring defensive lapses that allowed UND to bulge the twine behind the Herd's netminders. There was hope that the Bisons could pick up a big "W" against a Beavers team that had a vast number of freshmen on it.

The game started quickly for both teams, but the Beavers showed their hometown faithful that they were ready to play. Brad Robbins, in his first game with Bemidji State, one-timed a pass from Tyler Tosunian past Jesse Deckert's left shoulder to light the lamp just 3:22 into the game. The 2265 fans that showed up to the game appreciated the first goal they've seen this season by the Beavers.

I have to say that the Bisons began the game much better than they did the night before. While early goals are still plaguing them, they played a much more physical game against the Beavers, keeping them from finding easy seams to the net. If the Bisons can play like this all season long, they'll find themselves in a lot of games where they otherwise may not have had a chance. At the end of the first period, the Beavers held the 1-0 lead, but the two teams looked very even.

The second period, however, was all Bisons as they capitalized on a goaltending change. Mathieu Dugas played the first 30:38 of the game perfectly as he was 11-for-11 in saves, but Swedish-born Fabian Sivnert surrendered a goal just 17 seconds after he took to the blue paint for Bemidji State. Del Cowan banged home a rebound, and tied the game 1-1 at the 10:55 mark. 2:20 later, Brett Chartier notched his first goal of the season, unofficially, to put Manitoba up 2-1. The score would remain a one-goal Manitoba lead through the second intermission.

Bemidji State came out in the third period buzzing as they looked for the equalizer early. Cory Ward, a Las Vegas native, made that a reality 4:43 into the period as he converted a Radoslav Illo pass into a goal by beating Deven Dubyk who had taken over for Jesse Deckert. The game would remain knotted at 2-2 until the 10:32 mark when Danny Mattson found some room and wristed a shot past Dubyk to put the Beavers up 3-2. It dawned on me that this game may have the same ending as the UND game - a late goal by the opposition to ice it. Jesse Paradis, however, would have none of it. His goal just 1:55 after Mattson's returned the game to its even state, and the game would be set for overtime in its 3-3 score.

It looked like the Bisons were set for victory late in the third period if not for the glove of Fabian Sivnert. Del Cowen was sent in alone on a breakaway against the freshman goalie, and it looked like Cowen would have the game-winner with just over three minutes to go as he deked to the backhand. His shot, however, would be denied as Sivnert flashed the leather to stop the backhander from finding the twine, and the five-minute overtime period would be needed.

The teams would play a little back-and-forth hockey in the overtime period, but nothing would get past either Dubyk or Sivnert. The final score from the Sanford Center would be recorded as a 3-3 tie.

Beavers head coach Tom Serratore felt his team played well for their first game of the NCAA preseason, and paid the Bisons a nice compliment in his comments. "The start of the season, you can practice all you want, you can condition all you want, but this is the kind of stuff you have to play in game situations," he said. "There's a lot of traffic out there, and it's not easy. Even if you think you're in good shape, when you're getting banged on for 60 minutes it’s a little different. The guys needed that. They needed to get into a situation where there was a lot of congestion, a lot of physicality. They responded pretty well against a good hockey team."

So while Manitoba's overall record this season improves to 0-3-1 with the draw, it seems these exhibition games against a couple of solid NCAA programs is starting to help the Bisons find their groove. The powerplay should be a priority for the Bisons when they return home to practice as they went oh-fer in the two games against UND and Bemidji State. The penalty kill, on the other hand, was perfect, so there's definitely some positives to take away from the roadtrip.

Again, the Bisons need some of their scorers to step up and make major contributions. Ciarelli, Sutherland, and Macauley were all held off the scoresheet. The good news is that goals are coming from other sources, but the Bisons need a few of their marquee players to start showing up in the scoring summery with regularity if they want to win Canada West.

Overall, I'd say this roadtrip was a success. Losing to the #4-ranked team in the USA isn't such a bad thing when it was 4-3 late in the third period, and rallying to tie Bemidji State for a tie is a good sign. Character is built in the trenches, and these two NCAA teams certainly were given a run for their money by the Bisons.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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