Monday, 6 February 2017

Beyond Proud

If you were up early enough today, the bronze- and gold-medal games at the 2017 Winter Universiade Games in Almaty, Kazakhstan were happening in women's hockey. In the bronze-medal match, USA met up with China and I fully admit I was not up early enough to catch this game. I won't keep you in suspense over those results as the Americans will return home with bronze medals after downing China by a 3-0 score. Well done, Americans! What I was interested in, however, was the gold-medal game which featured a rematch from two years ago when Russia beat Canada for the gold medal in 2015.

Instead of me explaining and recapping the goals, though, I'm taking the easy way out and posting the video highlights of the goals in the game. Yes, it's lazy, but I'm tired from being up to watch the game live from Kazakhstan.
Ok, there were a couple of goals that Guelph's Valerie Lamenta probably wanted a mulligan on, but the real story of this game was Canada's inability to generate any offence on SIX (6!) five-on-three power-play opportunities. Far too often, the Canadians either couldn't break into the Russian zone or they made questionable passes that didn't need to be made. No one was out there scoring points on style, so put the puck on net, crash the net, and chip in a rebound or two.

Canada would try to carry the puck into the Russian zone and the Russians would turn them away time and again. With the Russians lining up on their blue line, Canada needed to attack with speed, chipping the puck deep into the Russian zone and winning the race to recover the loose puck. This rarely happened, and the Russians continued to watch the Canadians return to their own zone to pick up the puck that had been cleared. It was frustrating to watch since it appeared no adjustments were being made on the Canadian bench.

But that's not why I'm here today. Yes, losing is never fun, but a silver medal is still a heckuvan achievement for women who have hardly played together. Most times, these women are doing their best to ruin each other's dreams, so getting them on the same page in a short amount of time is nothing short of a miracle. That being said, there are two women in particular of whom Winnipeggers - and, to a degree, Reginians? Regina-ites? Regina citizens - should be proud!

We'll start with this gal who calls Regina home, but has found a following in Winnipeg thanks to her style of play, her ability to be a game-changer, and her always-smiling face. Erica Rieder is one of the key cogs for head coach Jon Rempel's Manitoba Bisons team, and getting her back on the ice this upcoming weekend against Alberta is exactly what the Bisons need in terms of adding offence from the blue line. In 77 games with the Bisons, the third-year rearguard has 15 goals and 22 assists while being a +28. She's already posted a career-best for goals, assists, and points this season, and she still has games to go. Rieder loves to push the puck and can often be seen leading a rush as much as she's first person back in the defensive zone when the play comes back down the ice.

Seeing her named to the Canadian Universiade this season shouldn't come as a surprise as she's often mentioned among the elite rearguards in Canada West. She's excellent with stick checks, and players rarely skate around or past Rieder with the puck. She scored a goal in the semi-final against the Americans and added a helper earlier in the tournament, but she was a +9 through the tournament in helping Canada to a silver medal. That's the kind of effort that fans of the Bisons have come to expect from Rieder!

The other woman that Winnipeggers should be proud of based on her performance is Alanna Sharman. The third-year forward for the Bisons arrived on the CIS scene with a bang as she racked up 17 goals and 40 points in her rookie season in 2014-15, winning CIS Rookie of the Year honours for her efforts. Since then, Sharman has rounded out her game in becoming more responsible defensively, but she still has an ear-to-ear smile after scoring and setting up goals. She's better than a point-per-game player in her career, scoring 35 goals and 79 points in 73 career games thus far, and she's one of Jon Rempel's go-to players when he needs some offence.

What makes Alanna special is her vision on the ice. She has great instincts when it comes to the offensive side of the game, and often reads plays in the defensive zone to create turnovers and race down the ice. She often is looking for a gap to open that she can jump into for a scoring chance or she's reading the play in order to thread the needle to one of her linemates for an easy tap-in goal. This was evident in Almaty where she scored one goal and added seven assists in five games while posting a +7. Alanna's evolution has made her one of the best players in Canadian university hockey, and the Bisons will welcome her back for their series against Alberta!

These women, along with 20 other women, busted their behinds to earn a silver medal against some of the best players on the planet between the ages of 18 and 28. These are the best and brightest hockey stars that our country's institutions of higher learning have to offer, and they're playing in front of crowds of 200. Sometimes more. Often, they play in front of less. It's hard to understand why when there are outstanding efforts from players like Sharman and Rieder every weekend, not to mention all of the other talented women across the great hockey nation.

I'm damned proud of our Canadian Universiade athletes, and especially of this women's hockey team for coming home with hardware. It's a great honour to represent one's country, and it's outstanding that these women maintain solid GPAs while playing hockey at an extremely high level. The vast majority of us who attend games have never had to manage their student lives and/or hockey careers quite like these women do, and it's something that needs to be highlighted in how well they do to represent the student portion of "student-athlete".

If you cheer on Team Canada's national women's team, you're cheering on a number of women who have done what Sharman and Rieder are doing in their careers. For this reason alone, you should be down at your local university rink to see these women play. If you need other reasons, I post a weekly Canada West recap that highlights the amazing things the eight teams of women are doing week-in and week-out. You should be witnessing those things in-person. If you cheer on Team Canada at their international events, players like Charline Labonté, Hayley Wickenheiser, Shannon Szabados, Iya Gavrilova, and Venla Hovi all have suited up or are currently members of Canadian university teams and all have played in the Olympics.

Stop making excuses and go see these women play. I'm proud of what Alanna Sharman and Erica Rieder did in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and I'm looking forward to seeing them get back to Canada West action this weekend and as the fourth-ranked Manitoba Bisons move into the playoffs. While losing sucks, especially in a gold-meal game, these two ladies left it all on the ice in Kazakhstan, and that's exactly what they do each and every night as members of the Manitoba Bisons.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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