Because of my involvement with the UMFM radio station, I have been following the University of Manitoba Bisons hockey program all season, and both the men's and women's teams opened the Canada West Conference quarterfinals this weekend as the CIS prepares for their annual hockey tournament to decide which team is Canada's best collegiate team. The Bisons men's team went on a fantastic run to close out the season in third-place in Canada West while the women battled hard all season to a sixth-place finish. But as the old adage states, all you need is a chance, and both teams qualified for the playoffs!
BISON'S MEN'S HOCKEYThe Bisons men's hockey team finished the season with a respectable 17-7-4 record after starting the first few weeks of the season with a sub-.500 record. The men also finished as the seventh-ranked team in the CIS as their strong play finally saw them break into the top-ten on November 27, 2012. As they continued to pile up the wins, they moved up the standings and the rankings to finish one point behind second-place Saskatchewan, drawing them a quarterfinal match-up with the University of Regina Cougars in the three-vs-six Canada West playoff series.
The Bisons had won the season series by a 3-1 margin, but the two teams split on the final weekend, causing the Bisons to miss out on that coveted second-place finish that would have afforded them a bye for the opening weekend of playoffs. While the Bisons certainly have the firepower to overwhelm the Cougars in a short series, the Cougars needed to win the opening game to put the pressure on the Bisons in the three-game series. Would the Bisons men's team continue their winning ways?
In a word, yes. The Bisons played in the comfy confined of Max Bell Arena and used the home-ice advantage to jump out to a 1-0 lead in the series thanks to a 6-2 win. Jesse Deckert was busy in the Manitoba net as he stopped 35 of 37 shots, but it was the impressive first-line of the Bisons that paced them to victory. Blair Macauley had a pair of goals in a four-point night, Tyler Dittmer scored a goal and an assist, and Ian Duval has a goal and three assists as the Bisons' big guns put up four goals and ten points on the Cougars.
The Bisons led 2-0 after the first period where they threw 17 shots at Cougars goaltender Lucas Gore. Manitoba was up 4-1 after 40 minutes, and closed out the game with a 2-1 advantage in goals in the third period. While Manitoba was outshot 37-35 in the game, the Bisons snipers found holes past Gore to pace them in the Game-One victory and put the squad up 1-0 in the best-of-three series.
Tonight, the two teams met again at the Max Bell Center at the University of Manitoba, and the Bisons trampled the Cougars again. The Cougars decided for a change in net with the hopes that their fortunes would change, so Andrew Hayes was sent to the blue paint for Regina. Jesse Deckert would get the call again for Manitoba, and he was considerable less busy than he was on Friday. The end result is that the Bisons ended Regina's season tonight with a convincing 5-0 victory to capture the best-of-three series by a 2-0 margin.
Tyler Dittmer was the man of the night as he scored four of the five goals that the Bisons put on the board. If it wasn't for Tyler Feakes' goal five minutes into the second period, Dittmer would have had himself the natural hat trick tonight. Ian Duval had three assists and Blair Macauley had another pair of assists, giving the line a ridiculous eight goals and nineteen points against the Cougars this weekend! If the Bisons' top scorers can remain this hot through the next couple of rounds, the Canada West playoffs might be over fairly quickly. Jesse Deckert recorded the 24-save shutout tonight as the Cougars were sent home with their tails between their legs.
Manitoba outshot the Cougars 42-24 in the game, and were strong on the penalty kill tonight. For the series, Manitoba was 4/12 with the man-advantage and killed off seven of eight powerplay chances by the Cougars. Special teams can certainly change the outcome of a series in a hurry, and the Bisons showed that as they pumped three powerplay markers past the Cougars on Friday and another tonight.
The Bisons will play the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in Rutherford Rink next weekend in the Canada West semi-finals. The two teams split the season series at 2-2 with Manitoba outscoring the Huskies 10-8 in the four games. As stated above, one point separated these two teams in the standings, so this series should be a closely-contested battle with the winner moving onto the Canada West final. Here's hoping we see two more Manitoba wins next weekend!
BISONS WOMEN'S HOCKEYThe Bisons women's team qualified for the playoffs after 10-12-6 campaign that led them to the sixth-seed in Canada West play. They drew the impressive UBC Thunderbirds in the quarterfinals, and were looking to pull off an upset against the third-place team. Manitoba was 1-3 against UBC this year in conference play, but had only been outscored 10-6 in those games. It appeared that an upset could be in the cards if Manitoba limited their mistakes and kept the Thunderbirds in check as the Thunderbirds were opening their first playoff game ever in Canada West history.
Game One went on Friday night from Father David Bauer Arena, and the game was tight early on as Manitoba and UBC were tied 1-1 through 18 minutes. As you're probably aware, though, there are 20 minutes in a period, and the wheels came off for Manitoba in the dying minutes of the first period as UBC notched two goals in the final two minutes to go into the intermission up 3-1.
The Bisons played well in the second period, but a powerplay goal and another late goal in the period gave UBC a 5-1 lead. With as good as goaltender Danielle Dube was playing, Manitoba needed to stop the bleeding and find a way to generate more offence. Manitoba led in shots to that point - a margin of 18-12 - but they simply weren't generating the scoring chances they needed to win this game.
The third period saw a fairly quiet game turn ugly as Manitoba's Maggie Litchfield-Medd was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for kneeing with just over four minutes to play. UBC's Rebecca Unrau was cutting across the neutral zone when Litchfield-Medd caught Unrau with a knee-on-knee check. Unrau was helped off the ice by team trainers after lying on the ice, but it was not her knee that took the wost damage. After getting clipped, Unrau landed hard on her shoulder, and will require x-rays to see if there is any internal damage. Here's hoping there isn't, and she can be back on the ice ASAP.
The final horn showed a 7-2 win for the UBC Thunderbirds, but the loss of one of their snipers might change the way this series is played from Friday on. Saturday's game might be a little rougher between the Bisons and Thunderbirds as the Thunderbirds carry a 1-0 series lead into Saturday night.
Game Two went tonight from the Father David Bauer Arena again, and Rebecca Unrau was not in the lineup for the Thunderbirds. After both Manitoba goalies saw action in Friday's night game, head coach Jon Rempel decided to go with Leiette Klassen for the Game Two battle. UBC contered with Danielle Dube for her second start in this series, and you could feel the buzz about this game from the moment the ladies stepped onto the ice.
The game was a very close-checking game through the first 40 minutes as the two teams weren't letting either side get quality chances. Any that were permitted were turned away by the two goaltenders who were standing tall in the nets. The powerplays, as stated earlier in terms of their importance in a short series, were unsuccessful on both sides, and we remained knotted up at 0-0 through the first and second intermissions. With twenty minutes to play, it looked like an overtime goal might end this one.
Manitoba got the jump on UBC in the third period as they came out flying and were rewarded just 1:09 into the frame. Defenceman Jayden Skoleski put the Herd up 1-0 as Manitoba moved the puck well to find an open look, and the puck found twine behind Dube. We'd find ourselves squared again as Genevieve Carpenter-Boesch solved Klassen with a shot at the 7:50 mark, and the tight-checking game began once more. However, Nicole Saxvik found daylight and ripped a shot past Klassen just 31 seconds later to put UBC up 2-1, and the Thunderbirds were in the driver seat as Manitoba now had to press for an equalizer.
Manitoba would be on the wrong end of another tally, this one by Haneet Parhar, with just 3:03 to play. Down 3-1, the Bisons pulled Klassen with just under two minutes to play and mounted a furious attack on the UBC zone. UBC's Genevieve Carpenter-Boesch would ice the game and the series with 1:09 to play as she deposited the puck into the vacant Manitoba net, ending the Bisons women's season with a 4-1 loss and a 2-0 series loss.
The women played valiantly all season, but a lack of scoring hurt them this season as they lost nine one-goal games this year. One-goal losses will happen to teams, but even if Manitoba had rallied to tie games in three of those nine games and force overtime, those points would have moved them ahead of the Saskatchewan Huskies for fifth-place in Canada West. Nonetheless, a good season from the ladies, and they'll have this writer's support again next season!
As for the men, they're off to battle the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. The Huskies will pose a a formidable threat in Saskatoon as the Huskies went 11-3-0 on home ice this season. One of those losses, however, came at the hands of the Bisons on January 4 as the Bisons took a 4-2 decision off the Huskies. The top line of the Bisons was on fire against the Regina Cougars, and they'll need to be strong against Saskatchewan goaltender Rayn Holfeld as he went 18-9 this season with a 2.74 GAA and a .905 save percentage. As the Los Angeles Kings showed last season, a hot goalie can change a series completely, so Jesse Deckert needs to continue as the top goalie thus far in the playoffs.
I'm looking forward to next weekend's games! GO BISONS!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!