Sunday, 4 March 2018

The Rundown - Week 18

After both Alberta and UBC were eliminated at the hands of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, respectively, there stood just two teams as the Huskies traveled to Winnipeg to face the Bisons for the Canada West women's hockey championship banner and the Catherwood Cup. Both teams had already qualified for the U SPORTS National Championship, and the Huskies were looking to upset the top-ranked Bisons to really throw the national rankings into disarray. Would the Huskies continue their amazing run this season or would the Bisons prevail over the Huskies to remain at the top of the rankings? Let's find out on this week's edition of The Rundown!

(2)SASKATCHEWAN at (1)MANITOBA - Game One: The eighth-seeded Huskies made it to Wayne Fleming Arena for Friday night's opening game of the championship best-of-three series against the top-seeded Manitoba Bisons. Canada West's best defensive team entered a hostile environment as crowds at Wayne Fleming Arena steadily grew throughout the Alberta series, so they'd need to be at their defensive best against the second-best offensive team. Manitoba needed the same effort that pushed them past Alberta as they really clamped down defensively while finding enough offence to oust the Pandas. What narrative would play out in Game One?

Both Saskatchewan's Jessica Vance and Manitoba's Lauren Taraschuk lived up to their amazing statistics in this game. Nicole Carswell was stoned by Vance midway through the period while Taraschuk was good in a couple of scrambles in front of her. After twenty minutes, we were deadlocked at 0-0 with Manitoba holding a 12-5 advantage in shots.

The second period was similar to the first in that both goalies were stellar once more. Vance stopped a Courtlyn Oswald breakaway, Taraschuk got a shoulder in front of a Kaitlin Willoughby laser beam, and these two teams would battle through forty minutes with nothing getting by the two netminders. It looked like Manitoba would take the lead with a glorious toe-drag by Lauryn Keen around a defender that resulted in a shot blocker side, but she clanged the shot off the post as the crowd let out a collective gasp at the result. At the end of two periods, Manitoba still held a 16-12 edge in shots.

The third period saw Saskatchewan come out with fire in their skates as they got a couple of great chances, but Taraschuk continued to turn the Huskies aside. It appeared that Manitoba would take a lead midway through the third period when Lauryn Keen tipped a point shot past Vance, but it was ruled that Vance had been interfered with as Keen skated by so we'd play on. With neither side finding a seam on either goaltender, we'd move to overtime tied 0-0.

It appeared that Venla Hovi didn't want to play for long in the extra frame as she ripped a shot past Vance, but could not beat the post just three minutes into the fourth period. With the way this game was going, there was talk in the press box about another long night as the Pandas and Bisons had played six days earlier, but things would come to a close late in the overtime period.
Venla Hovi comes out of the corner, drops a pass to captain Caitlin Fyten, and her blast eludes traffic and ends up in the top corner on the glove side on Jessica Vance with 8.6 seconds to play as the Manitoba Bisons take Game One by a 1-0 score in overtime! Taraschuk made 25 saves for her second-straight shutout of the playoffs, extending her shutout streak to 224:15 in the playoffs, and her third win of the post-season while Vance made 32 saves in the overtime loss.

As we look at Caitlin Fyten meeting reporters after Game One, the Manitoba Bisons now hold a 1-0 series lead over Saskatchewan. In four playoff games and 18 periods of playoff hockey, the Manitoba Bisons have now only been outscored in one period of hockey and have only trailed for three minutes and 18 seconds. If defence wins championships, Manitoba is doing this post-season stuff right! Game Two goes Saturday night at 7pm with Saskatchewan needing a win to extend the series while Manitoba will look to claim their third Canada West Championship in program history!

And just in case you thought Manitoba's hockey community wasn't watching, here is the scoreboard update at tonight's Red Wings-Jets game at BellMTS Place in Winnipeg!

(2)SASKATCHEWAN at (1)MANITOBA - Game Two: There was electricity in the crowd as the Catherwood Cup, the Canada West Championship banner, and the medals were all laid out in case the Bisons closed out the series tonight. The Huskies needed a win to force a Game Three on Sunday, so they had to have a big game tonight. There can only be one winner, so let's get to the action!

Game Two's opening period provided another twenty minutes of exemplary goaltending from both Saskatchewan's Jessica Vance and Manitoba's Lauren Taraschuk. Saskatchewan came out strong only to be thwarted by Taraschuk. The Bisons pushed back midway through the period, but Vance was equal to the task. Despite outshooting the Huskies 9-6, Manitoba and Saskatchewan would move to the second period tied 0-0.

The second period, however, would be far different from any period played at Wayne Fleming Arena this post-season. Manitoba controlled the period early on, and they would be rewarded minutes into the period.
Alanna Sharman made a power move out from behind the net to wrap the puck on Vance, but she would be stopped. Erin Kucheravy would also be denied in the resulting scramble, but the puck would pop out to the right where Charity Price stood unchecked and the Manitoba winger whacked the puck into the yawning cage at 5:36 to give Manitoba the 1-0 lead!

Manitoba would continue to press, and they would add another goal less than two minutes later on an absolute beauty!
Rookie Lauren Warkentin looked like a season veteran with a gorgeous tape-to-tape pass that hit Alana Serhan in stride as she had a step on the Saskatchewan defender, and her shot low on the blocker side froze Vance to make it 2-0 for Manitoba at 7:29!

We weren't done there, folks.
Lauryn Keen's pass inside the blue line found Sheridan Oswald, and Oswald spotted Natasha Kostenko wide open behind a defender. Kostenko made no mistake with the shot as she went high on the glove side, and Manitoba had a 3-0 lead at 12:37!

Did I hear someone say "more goals, please"? Saskatchewan decided to grant that wish when Vance lofted a puck into the neutral zone while Manitoba was changing. That puck was picked up by Kaitlin Willoughby, and she went one-on-one with Caitlyn Fyten. Fyten played the situation well in keeping the gap close, but Willoughby wired a laser to the glove-side on Taraschuk that the Manitoba netminder got a piece of, but not enough of as Willoughby's shot found twine to make it 3-1 at 15:15. That shot ended Taraschuk's shutout streak at 259:30, but the teams would go to the intermission with Manitoba holding the two-goal lead.

As the radio broadcast came out of the intermission, there was talk about how Willoughby may be the one player who could will her team back into the game. Well, just 1:19 into the period, Willoughby came in across the line and fired a quick shot that handcuffed Taraschuk as it bounced off her glove and got behind her, and we were suddenly looking at a 3-2 game. Grips tightened on sticks a little as both teams played a little more defensive-minded, but things began to open up as Saskatchewan needed the equalizer. Unfortunately for them, it would be Manitoba who found the next goal.

Jordy Zacharias pushed the puck forward on an offensive zone face-off draw, and Alanna Sharman picked up the puck as it slid into the corner. Jordy shook her check, tapped her stick on the ice, and Sharman fed her in the slot where she went high blocker-side as Vance went down, and Manitoba led 4-2 with 4:56 to play! After a timeout was called by Saskatchewan with two minutes to play, Courtlyn Oswald would ice this game with an empty-net goal for the 5-2 Manitoba victory and the Canada West Championship!

Here is another angle of the Bisons coming off the bench as they celebrate their third Canada West Championship in program history and the first Championship won on home ice!
In the aftermath, Taraschuk picked up her fourth-straight victory with an 18-save performance while Vance suffered her second-straight loss after making 22 stops. Manitoba wins the best-of-three series 2-0, and claim the Canada West Championship while securing the first-overall seed in the national rankings when it comes to the U SPORTS National Championship at Western University in London, Ontario from March 14 to 18!

The Final Word

This was an outstanding series that could have gone either way based on Game One's results. Saskatchewan came in as advertised and nearly suffocated the Bisons in Game One before Fyten scored with 8.6 seconds remaining in overtime. make no mistake that Saskatchewan is going to be a tough out at the U SPORTS National Championship, and we may be talking about an all-Canada West Final if the Huskies play as well as we've seen them play!

Manitoba, however, has shown throughout these playoffs that they can play in a defensive battle, having won three games in overtime, and can explode for offence when given the chance. They'll be tested by the best teams from the OUA, the RSEQ, and the AUS as they travel to London, but Manitoba's depth, skill, and speed have carried them as the best team in the nation for several weeks.

If you're interested in listening to these games, UMFM, the official radio broadcaster for Bisons women's hockey, will travel with the team to London to broadcast all games live on 101.5 FM in the Winnipeg region and on where the games can be streamed.

Manitoba went out this season with the goal of winning the west. That goal is now accomplished. The next goal is conquering London, Ontario as the team looks for its first gold medal at the U SPORTS National Championship in its history. It takes three wins in the single-elimination games at Nationals to earn said gold medal, so Mission: Three Wins is now underway for the Bisons. If things go well and they get a little puck luck, we might be talking about the National Champion Manitoba Bisons in a couple of weeks!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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