Saturday, 6 October 2012

Cross-Border Exhibition Battle

The University of Manitoba Bisons got off to slow start against the University of Alberta Golden Bears last weekend, falling in both games by a combined 11-4 score, and they were given a chance this weekend to play one of the NCAA's best teams in the University of North Dakota Sioux team. With the Thanksgiving holiday in full effect this weekend and the women's Bisons squad kicking off their season at home, the Herd traveled south to play UND in an exhibition game. I would have gone had it been for my better half being away herself, so I got the chance to listen to one of the CIS's top-ranked teams take on one of the NCAA's best.

It wasn't tough to understand that this game felt like a preseason game. Neither team played very well, and, at times, it felt like they may just be getting their feet wet in terms of playing with other linemates. That being said, the game actually turned out to be a fairly evenly-matched game that saw a comeback thwarted late. Kudos to the fans, though, as 10,477 came out to support UND and the Bisons in this cross-border battle.

11:32 into the first period saw UND jump out in front. Carter Rowney found some room past Joe Caligiuri to put UND up by a goal. Manitoba responded just 1:28 later when Tyler Dittmer converted a Jeremy Schappert setup into a goal by hammering a shot home from just inside the face-off circle, and the two teams were tied at 1-1. However, UND ragained the one-goal advantage just 2:53 before the break as Danny Kristo deked around a defender, cut in across the blueline, and wired a wrist shot past a falling Dane Crowley and under Joe Caligiuri. Honestly, Kristo's goal showed why he'll be a high draft pick whenever the NHL decides to return, and his goal allowed UND to take the lead into the intermission.

Before the ice had dried for the second period, UND had a two-goal lead. Just 56 seconds in, Mark MacMillan scored on a backhander that was set up entirely by Carter Rowney's effort. Rowney attempted to split the Manitoba defence, and took both defenders out in the collision, allowing MacMillan to pick up the loose puck and finish the deke started by Rowney. Some good teamwork put UND up 3-1. The lead jumped to 4-1 just 3:23 later. Danny Kristo dug the puck out of the corner and fed the cutting Corbin Knight. Knight dragged the puck across the crease before shoveling the backhander home past a prone Caligiuri. Manitoba cut the deficit back to two goals at the 8:50 mark. With the Herd pressing, Dane Crowley poked a rebound home past UND's Zane Gothberg, and the Brown and Gold were within two. The period would close with UND leading 4-2.

Just as an aside, Jeremy Schappert needed to play much harder on Knight in front of the net on the scoring play. I'm not sure what he was thinking, but he could easily have broken up the play that put UND up 4-1 with a little defensive awareness. Schappert has to be better in his own zone if the Bisons are going to win Canada West this season.

With time against them, the Bisons knew they had to press. Gothberg turned away Manitoba early on, but Blair Macauley put the Bisons within one goal at 11:43 of the third period when he wrapped a puck around the net after Gothberg misplayed it. Macauley's unassisted effort quieted the crowd down as it appeared that the streak may end. The Bisons have not beaten UND in a cross-border game since 1949! However, the streak would remain intact as a late face-off in the Bisons' zone was won by Cater Rowney back to Derek Forbort, and he hammered a slapshot home past Jesse Deckert to put UND back on top 5-3 with just 2:16 to play. Gothberg would hold the fort the rest of the way, and UND skated to the victory!

UND head coach Dave Hakstol, now 9-0 against the Bisons, had this to say about his troops' effort against the Bisons: "I thought there was a lot of rust. There was a lot of good effort. The sharpest part of our game was offensively and making plays - some high-risk plays - but making some offensive plays. Not a lot of cohesion defensively or in the neutral zone, but those are things we haven't had a chance to work on, so probably what you would expect."

The Bisons could probably hear that quote by Mr. Hakstol and think he was talking about them. There's a lot of good the Bisons did in that game, but they seem to forget about playing tough defence in their own zone. I know Dane Crowley had a goal in this game, but 14 PIMs? Seriously? And Schappert's lack of defensive awareness was pointed out above. These two men will be relied upon this season by the Bisons, and both men have to be better. I have yet to see Brock Sutherland and James Henry hit the scoresheet on this NCAA roadtrip, and Paul Ciarelli had an assist tonight. A better effort is needed from those three as well.

Tomorrow night sees the Bisons playing the Bemidji State Beavers as the NCAA roadtrip continues. I'll admit that I'm a fan and have a ball cap of the Beavers, but I'll be supporting the Bisons. UMFM station manager Jared is a Bemidji State alum, but I'm hoping he'll be cheering for the Herd as well. More highlights tomorrow of the cross-border battles!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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