Saturday, 12 May 2018

Manitoba Women Are Golden (Again)

If you're a female Manitoba hockey player, 2018 has been a very good year. First, the Manitoba Bisons women's hockey team captured both the Canada West championship and the U SPORTS National Championship at the university level. And today, Team Manitoba at the 2018 National Aboriginal Hockey Championship followed up their gold medal from last season with a second gold medal as they downed Ontario South in the final!

There's a reason why I mentioned the Manitoba Bisons in the opening paragraph. This Manitoba team, who was absolutely dominant throughout the tournament, was led in scoring by two players that the Bisons have signed as recruits for next season as Keyanna and Keyara Lea showed the nation just how good they are. But there are others on this team who will do well at the U SPORTS level as defender Breanne Dondo, who will attend the University of Montreal, and goaltender Bianca Zak, who will attend Mount Allison University, were key contributors on this Manitoba team in helping them get to a second consecutive gold medal celebration. It might be time for the nation to take notice that Manitoba is producing some incredible hockey players.

That being said, let's focus on how good this Manitoba team was in their pursuit of excellence once more. Manitoba would meet the 1-0 Ontario South team in their opening game on May 7, and this one had all the makings of a classic. Bianca Zak got the call between the pipes for Manitoba while Keelee Hollowell took to the blue paint in the Ontario South end. Just 1:43 in, Kaila Powell put Manitoba up 1-0 off a wraparound following a turnover behind Hollowell's net. Manitoba would double their lead just four minutes later when Keyanna Lea took a gorgeous feed from sister Keyara Lea out of the corner on the power-play and zipped it past the glove of Hollowell at 5:14. Alissa General would cut the deficit in half with 3:47 to play, but Manitoba took the lead into the intermission.

Can I just take a second and point out that Keelee Hollowell was wearing #53? I love me some non-traditional goalie numbers. Anyway, the second saw Manitoba restore their two-goal lead twice. First, Emily Daniels scored at 7:18 to make it 3-1 before Ontario's Jesse Renee Kennedy made it a one-goal game 12:48. Manitoba would see their special teams jump to life when Makenzie McCallum blocked a point shot on the power-play, and then was off to the races. Her partial breakaway saw her go high on the glove side just inside the post with 22 seconds remaining for the shorthanded marker that put Manitoba ahead 4-2.

Manitoba played the third period very defensive-minded, send the Ontario attack back to the neutral zone time and time again. However, we all know that the "prevent" defence eventually collapses, and Ontario would find a break with 4:15 to play. A turnover at the blueline led to Ontario getting the puck in deep before sending it back to the point where Victoria Miller-Loft fired one on net that went off a Manitoba defender right to the stick of Alissa General and she buried her second of the game to make it 4-3. And Ontario wasn't done. With Hollowell on the bench and six attackers on, a scramble in front of Zak saw Cheyenne Campbell bury the game-tying goal with just 23 seconds to play!

Overtime, right? Not on this day. Manitoba, with five seconds remaining, saw Keyanna Lea win the face-off back where McCallum fired a wrist shot towards the net that went off a defender in front and allowed Lea, who had gone to the net, to pick up the loose puck, spin, and slide it past Hollowell with less than a second to play to give Manitoba the 5-4 win! In a rather remarkable finish, Manitoba grabbed the victory with that last-second effort! Zak was brilliant in stopping 27 of 31 shots while Hollowell deserved a better fate after stopping 24 of 29 shots. The full game's video can be seen below!

Manitoba's second game came against Ontario North as the 'Tobans looked to continue their reign of terror over our easterly neighbours. Makenzie McCallum staked the Manitobans to a 1-0 just 10:42 into this game before Ontario's Xanthe Shecapio-Saganash came roaring back with a pair of goals 33 seconds apart at 14:40 and 15:13 to put Ontario up 2-1! Kaila Powell would score with 3:03 left in the period on the power-play, however, and this game would hit the intermission tied at 2-2!

Would we see another back-and-forth affair like the previous day? That answer was no as Manitoba clamped down defensively while goaltender Shayna Moore turned aside the remaining Ontario chances. A second period goal by Keyanna Lea followed third period goals from Kaila Powell and Keyara Lea paced Manitoba to the 5-2 win over Ontario North. Moore stopped 16 of 18 shots in the game while her Ontario counterpart Cailen Hanzlik stopped 35 of 40 shots she faced as Manitoba improved to 2-0! Again, the full video of this game can be seen below!

Manitoba's third game in pool play came against Team Atlantic, and Manitoba's prowess was on display. Manitoba, which didn't allow Team Atlantic a shot on net in the opening period, jumped out to a 3-0 through the opening frame on goals by Keyanna Lea, Carrigan Umpherville, and Aliya Baker. Manitoba would add three more goals in the second period with Makenzie McCallum, Keyanna Lea, and Keyara Lea tallying notches. And in the final period, Umpherville added her second of the game as Manitoba skated to the 7-0 win. Shayna Moore had a rather light evening of work in stopping all eight shots for the shutout while Manitoba peppered Atlantic goalie Taylor Cremo with 39 shots, 32 of which which turned aside. With the victory, Manitoba moved to 3-0. The full game can be seen below.

Manitoba finished the pool play of the tournament against Team Alberta on Thursday, May 10, and this one was all Manitoba once again. First period goals by Keyanna Lea and Makenzie McCallum put Manitoba out to a 2-0 lead. That lead grew to 4-0 after Kaila Powell and Carrigan Umpherville dented the twine for Manitoba in the middle frame. And, just for good measure, Manitoba finished off Alberta with a trio of goals in the third period from Umpherville, Lea, and Powell to lead the central province to a 7-0 victory. Manitoba outshot Alberta 43-9 in this game with Bianca Zak picking up the shutout while Alberta's Paige Thomas stopped 36 shots in the game. Manitoba finished their fourth game in four nights with a sparkling 4-0 record to put them atop the Pool A standings. Video of this game is below.

The medal round saw Manitoba enter at the top-seeded team from Pool A, so they would meet the second-place team from Pool B. That team would be British Columbia who tied Saskatchewan in the final game of Pool B play to put both teams at 3-0-1, but fell to second after Saskatchewan finished with a better goal differential. As a result, Manitoba and BC would square off with a berth to the gold medal game on the line, but this one went off the rails in a hurry for BC.

After falling behind 2-0 just 1:46 into the game on a goal by Keyanna Lea and power-play marker from Julie Albert, BC rallied three minutes later on a power-play of their own when Maryna MacDonald found room past Shayna Moore to make it 2-1 at 4:46. From there, this one went sideways as Manitoba finished off the period with a power-play goal from Keyara Lea and an even-strength tally from Aliya Baker to put Manitoba ahead 4-1 after one period of play.

The second period saw Manitoba increase its lead when Makenzie McCallum scored on the power-play just 2:57 into the period, but that would be all the scoring for now. I say "for now" because Manitoba absolutely shut the door on any sort of miraculous comeback in the third period. Goals by Keyara Lea on the power-play, McCallum, Umpherville, Umpherville again, and Kaila Powell ended any hope that BC may have had for a gold medal as Manitoba skated to the 10-1 win. Moore stopped 18 of 19 shots in the victory while Tessa Sturgeon surrendered all ten goals on Manitoba's 30 shots. With the win, Manitoba advanced to the gold medal final! Video of the game is below.

Who would they face in the gold medal game? None other than Ontario South, the team against whom Manitoba first faced and needed last second heroics to escape with a win. Would we see another epic battle between these two rivals?

Manitoba would be the first to hit the scoreboard in the gold medal game when Keyara lea skated it down the ice and across the Ontario blue line before dropping it for Keyanna Lea who took the puck to the high slot and wired a wrist shot past the screen and past Hailee Johnson in the Ontario net to put Manitoba up 1-0 just 8:40 into the game! Minutes later, the sisters would strike again as Keyanna Lea got the puck from the defensive half-board to Keyara who streaked down the ice against four defenders and somehow managed to take the puck across the slot and backhand a high shot past the glove on Johnson to make it 2-0 at 11:07 on what was possibly one of the worst defensive efforts that Ontario South had all tournament. The score would remain intact through to the intermission as Manitoba looked to build on that two-goal advantage in the second period.

And they would build on that lead. 6:30 into the period, Keyanna Lea won a race to the puck at the end-boards in the Ontario zone. She quickly relayed that puck to Keyara Lea who spotted Carrigan Umpherville in the slot and went tape-to-tape. Umpherville didn't get everything on the shot as the puck slid toward Johnson and some how got under her to make it 3-0 at 6:35! That seemed to spark Ontario, though, as they stormed back. Cassie Whiteye brought the puck in the Manitoba zone on the right side before finding Lillian George in the middle. George made an aggressive move to pull the puck to her forehand with a defender in front of her and behind her, and wired home a high shot past Bianca Zak to make it 3-1 at 8:06! The two-goal margin would hold through the second intermission as both teams had twenty minutes to play!

Just 4:30 into the period, George was on the move again as she caused a turnover, picked up the puck, flew down the right wing, and cut to the middle of the zone with one defender to beat. Her initial shot was stopped by the right pad of Zak, but George followed her shot and was rewarded with the rebound that she deposited behind Zak to make it a 3-2 game at 4:34! Manitoba would respond, however, as Keyanna Lea broke over the Ontario line before losing the puck only to have the puck corralled by Carrigan Umpherville who wristed a high shot past a couple of Ontario defenders and past Hailee Johnson to make it 4-2 at 7:50!

Back came Ontario once more, and it felt like their preliminary game as Ontario scored with three minutes to play. Umpherville was whistled for a bodycheck, and that sent Ontario to the power-play where, after a timeout and putting Johnson on the bench, Ontario went to work with a six-on-four advantage. After moving the puck on the outside, Brittany Zack teed one up from the point that pinballed around the front of the net with five players standing in front of Zak. Finally, it popped out to the left face-off circle where Ariele McDonald wristed a high shot through the traffic that found the back of the net to make this a 4-3 game! Could Ontario tie the game late again?

Manitoba, having learned from their previous game, kept the pressure on Ontario as they pulled their netminder for the extra attacker, and that pressure paid off when Kaila Powell finally buried the puck in the unguarded cage to make it 5-3 and secure Manitoba's second-straight gold medal! As time ran out, Manitoba's bench emptied and the team embraced Zak at her net. Zak was solid as she stopped 19 shots for the victory while Johnson stopped 20 shots in helping her team to the silver medal. You can watch the full gold medal game below!

Just to give you an idea of how good a few of these players were, Keyanna Lea led Team Manitoba in scoring over the six games with nine goals and 12 assists! Sister Keyara Lea wasn't too far behind as she finished the six games with five goals and ten assists. Carrigan Umpherville scored eight goals and added three helpers in the six games. Together, those three were the driving force in helping Manitoba win. As a team, the Manitobans were nearly unstoppable while on the power-play, converting nine of 14 opportunities in the tournament for a 64.3% efficiency!

On the defensive side, both Shayna Moore and Bianca Zak were solid in the nets in going 6-0. Moore was 3-0 with a 1.00 GAA and a .923 save percentage while Bianca Zak put together a 3-0 record with a 2.00 GAA and a .900 save percentage. The Manitoba penalty kill was just as impressive as its power-play, allowing just two power-play goals on 17 opportunities for an 88.2% efficiency!

Overall, Manitoba was the best team at this tournament when the dust finally settled. They didn't score the most goals or stop the most shots statistically, but they played a solid team that looked unified on the ice. If the whole is greater than its parts, this Manitoba team is living proof of just how good a team can be when they come together. For the second-straight year! Congratulations go out to Team Manitoba for repeating as gold medalists! Way to make the province proud, ladies!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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