Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Rundown - Week 20

If you've been reading the recaps from earlier this week, you already know that Manitoba went into yesterday's semifinal at the 2018 U SPORTS National Women's Ice Hockey Championship against the Concordia Stingers. I'm not recapping the whole tournament here - that's why I did the work earlier this week - but I will recap the two semifinal games as Canada West had both their teams advance to the medal-round semifinal games. Saskatchewan would play the OUA's Western Mustangs while Manitoba battled the RSEQ's Concordia Stingers, and I'm going to be honest: this recap is coming to you very late, so it's going to be mostly video.

Semi-Final #1

I'm going to be honest in saying that I was pulling for an all-Canada West final with Saskatchewan meeting up with the host Western Mustangs. Call me selfish, but the Huskies and Bisons were looking to bring home hardware just as the Pandas and Thunderbirds did one year earlier. It's a conference thing at this point as the two Canada West teams banded together in the hopes of a rematch from the Canada West Final.

Things were pretty even in the opening period of the semifinal. Western did have a slight edge in possession and shots, but they caught a big break late in the period when Saskatchewan was called for a penalty. Instead, this happened off the draw in the Huskies' zone!

Danielle Nogier made a great play to strip the Western blueliner of the puck, and then she was off to the races where her shot under Carmen Lasis's right arm just got through and across the line for the shorthanded marker and the 1-0 lead. For Nogier, that was her first goal of this season, and it put the Huskies in a good spot heading into the intermission with the lead.

The second period seemed a lot like the first period, but Saskatchewan ran into some penalty trouble early in and midway through the period that cost them. April Clark and Alyssa Chiarello scored at 5:06 and 10:20, respectively, while on separate power-plays, and the Mustangs had a 2-1 lead with 30 minutes to play. Vance was solid throughout the game and Saskatchewan certainly played just as well as Western at five-on-five, but the Mustangs put up a very solid defensive game through the neutral zone to stifle the Saskatchewan speed. Despite having a few opportunities, it seemed more white jerseys were in the Mustangs' zone at all time compared to the Huskies.

The third period played out exactly as the final ten minutes of the second period did - a wall of Mustangs that continually sent the Huskies back into their own zone to regroup. Time and time again, the Mustangs simply closed off passing lanes, got into skating lanes, and angled off Huskies to the outside whenever they tried to cross into the offensive zone. Time became Saskatchewan's biggest enemy, and despite outshooting the Mustangs 9-4 in the final frame, the Huskies could not find the equalizer as they fell to Western by a 2-1 score. Carmen Lasis was excellent between the pipes again for Western as she stopped 24 shots in the win while Vance did all she could in a 24-save performance as well.

As a result, Saskatchewan would move to the bronze medal game while Western advanced to the gold medal game.

Semi-Final #2

Huge props go out to John Gaudes for all his hard work at the U SPORTS National Women's Ice Hockey Championship. The Bisons' social media guru had his cell phone out and his face buried in a laptop for most of the weekend in pulling together all the highlights for the Manitoba Bisons, so a major kudos to his hard work!

With that being said, the Bisons met the Concordia Stingers with the second berth to the gold medal game on the line. I'm not going to exaggerate anything here, but this was the best game of the tournament. These two teams played hard, left everything on the ice, and still needed extra time to solve their differences. Without further adieu, here are the highlights from the game!
With that, here are the post-game reactions from the Bisons. Jason Pchajek from The Manitoban is on the left, and his work all weekend long was outstanding. Give his articles a read when you're done here for more Bisons coverage!
The Bisons advance to the gold medal game with a 2-1 shootout win over Concordia. Yes, no one likes shootouts. I know this, so you don't have to comment on this portion. If it were up to me, I would have let these two teams play until someone scored. Like the four-overtime game against the Pandas in the Canada West semifinal, the U SPORTS National Championship semifinal was a game for the ages, and it just sucks that someone had to lose. Lauren Taraschuk made 21 saves plus two more in the shootout to secure the victory while Katherine Purchase stopped 27 shots in the loss.

As a result of this game, Concordia would move to the bronze medal game against the Huskies while Manitoba would advance to the gold medal final against the hometown Western Mustangs.

Bronze Medal

Based on Concordia's 8-1 victory over St. Francis Xavier and their incredible effort against Manitoba, there was already a buzz around the rink that the Huskies might be up against their most difficult test at this tournament yet. Saskatchewan, however, decided to really stretch their legs as they carried the play at times against the Stingers in the opening frame. Vance was still looking strong as she did all tournament, and Saskatchewan led 14-5 in shots through the opening period. The only problem? The teams were tied 0-0 heading into the intermission.

Consecutive penalties late in the first intermission to both Emma Nutter and Leah Bohlken for holding carried over into the second period, and that was the break that Concordia needed. Claudia Dubois buried a shot 39 seconds into the period to put Concordia up 1-0 on the five-on-three, and they were off and running. Concordia carried the play in the middle frame and looked much more confident with the one-goal lead. With the Stingers flying and getting more shots on Vance, it felt as if it would only be a matter of time before they doubled their lead, and with 1:32 remaining in the period, Sophie Gagnon did just that to send the Stingers into the second intermission up 2-0.

Unfortunately for the Huskies, Brigitte Laganire made it 3-0 at the 4:12 mark of the period for the Stingers when she found the back of the net, and Dubois would ice it with an empty-netter at 17:21 with Saskatchewan head coach Steve Kook opting to pull Vance with three minutes to play. Despite the four-goal deficit, I have to credit Saskatchewan for playing hard right through to the final horn. They could have coasted being down four goals with a couple minutes to play, but they made Concordia play the full sixty minutes. The results may not have been what they wanted in a 4-0 loss in the bronze medal, but they did Canada West proud with their efforts this weekend! Katherine Purchase helped the Stingers claim bronze with her 37-save shutout of the Huskies while Jessica Vance made 24 stops in the loss.

The Concordia Stingers are your 2018 U SPORTS National Women's Ice Hockey bronze medalists!

Gold Medal

The hometown Western Mustangs would be the visitors on the scoreboard thanks to the top-ranked Manitoba Bisons being their opponents in today's gold medal game, but don't let that trick you into any false sense of security for the Bisons. There was a capacity crowd on-hand at Thompson Arena which saw the majority of those fans cheering for the Mustangs. The two rookie netminders - Western's Carmen Lasis and Manitoba's Lauren Taraschuk - would head to the blue paint for their respective teams. The trash-talk and chirping between Radio Western's broadcast team and UMFM's broadcast team was done in fun, but both radio teams wanted to see their side win. Let's go to the video!
As you just heard from the U SPORTS webcast announcers, the Manitoba Bisons are your 2018 U SPORTS National Women's Ice Hockey gold medalists after downing Western by a 2-0 score! Lauryn Keen and Venla Hovi scored the goals, and Lauren Taraschuk delivered another 20-save shutout in earning the gold medal. Carmen Lasis was solid in a 23-save effort, but her team, like so many before, could not solve Taraschuk. To the post-game scrum!
In terms of sinking in, as Lauren Taraschuk stated, it should be sinking in right about now as it's late. Very late, in fact. The only thing that matters is that the University of Manitoba Bisons Women's Hockey Team is the 2018 U SPORTS National Women's Ice Hockey gold medal-winning team!

The Final Word

I'll be honest: I've never had a chance to call or follow a team through to ultimate end of a national championship. Just being around the Manitoba Bisons as much as I was this season, I'm damned proud of these women, the coaching and training staff, the game-day crew, the alumni, and the parents. This was one of the most fun seasons of hockey for me as a broadcaster. I am honoured to have called the games over the last few years for this squad as they matured, suffered some setbacks, accomplished some goals, set some records, and came out in this season looking virtually unbeatable.

I don't know if I'll ever call another one of these games. And quite frankly, it doesn't really matter right now. This one will live with me forever. The banner on the wall, the memories made, the trophy engraved, the medals hung around necks? Those are what matters. I cannot say enough good things about these Manitoba women, and it has been an incredible ride.

To all the teams at the tournament that we rarely see - Queen's, StFX, Saint Mary's, Montreal, Concordia, and Western - well done on your accomplishments this season. Of 37 U SPORTS women's ice teams, you're part of the eight best teams in the nation. 29 other teams aren't able to say that, and that's a heckuvan honour. To Concordia and Western, hold your heads high while wearing your respective medals because Manitoba had to go through two of the best to be able to say they're the top team. Nothing was given. You made these women earn their standing.

To the seven teams in Canada West - UBC, Alberta, Calgary, Mount Royal, Lethbridge, Saskatchewan and Regina - the race to the top begins anew in October. I realize that Manitoba has a target on its back now, and we're looking forward to the fun of playing in Canada's best women's hockey conference once more. Don't hold anything back next season because Canada West is now has consecutive gold medals, and we all need to make one another better to make it three-straight gold medals.

It has been a helluva season, folks. Thank you for following along all season long here on The Rundown, and stay safe until next season!

Until next time, enjoy the summer!

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