Saturday, 7 September 2019

That Was Easy

Normally in university hockey, a team plays its full season before the recruiting season starts. It's easier to know who is returning and who may be pursuing other options once the season is over. As we've seen with a couple of Canada West women's hockey teams, there have been unannounced departures from veteran players who haven't graduated, and those roles will need to be filled by the incoming recruits. However, with two new teams being added to the mix next season, it seems the University of Manitoba Bisons women's hockey team has already made the decisions on who they want to join the squad next year.

We've had the pleasure of seeing her a few times already this preseason, but St. Mary's Academy Flames starting netminder Meagan Relf will join the Bisons next season after Amanda Schubert plays her fifth season of eligibility this year. Relf has been impressive thus far while playing with both Team Manitoba and St. Mary's, and the 5'10" goalie should be a good addition to the club with her athleticism and abilities. Relf previously played with the Eastman Selects team in eastern Manitoba, a team where U18 World Championship gold medalist Raygan Kirk and U SPORTS National Champion Lauren Warkentin both played, so she has some strong hockey roots as well. If good teams are backed by great goaltenders, it seems Manitoba has recruited another exceptional athlete.

Hanna Bailey of the Regina Rebels was actually recruited earlier this spring, but the Regina, Saskatchewan native won't attend the University of Manitoba until next season. Bailey comes to the school as one of Regina's more reliable scoring threats, notching 14 goals and 11 assists in 25 games in the SFMAAAHL last season as the leading scorer of the Rebels. The 5'8" forward brings some size, exceptional speed, and accurate hands to the Bisons, and will be another young sniper that Jon Rempel's squad will boast as they mature. She has played alongside current Bisons forward Samantha Sichkaruk for a few seasons in Regina, so there's hope these two can find chemistry again as they reunite in Winnipeg!

Continuing the player chemistry angle, the Bisons recruited forward Brenna Nicol from the Thunder Bay Queens! Nicol, a teammate of current Bisons Jamie Ricklefs and Molly Kunnas while in Thunder Bay, is a solid forward who doesn't mind doing a little dirty work to gain control of the puck. She goes to high-traffic areas, she competes in puck battles long the boards, she goes into the corners, and she often finds the puck on her stick. Nicol stands just 5'5", but she uses her speed and vision to find holes in the offensive zone. Having seen her compete at the Female World Sport School Challenge, there's no doubt that the Bisons are getting a spitfire of a player.

The Bisons went to western Manitoba to recruit Yellowhead Chiefs forward and Brandon, Manitoba native Jena Barscello. Jena was a force in the MFMHL last season with Yellowhead where she scored 16 goals and added 17 helpers in 28 games, finishing second in scoring on the Chiefs behind MacEwan University recruit Rylee Gluska. She was voted top performer for the Chiefs in the playoffs this past season after scoring three goals and seven assists in nine games, and shared the Team MVP award with Gluska. In 2017-18, Barscello recorded ten goals and 14 assists in 30 games. The 5'7" forward will be counted on for that clutch scoring as she joins the Bisons next year!

The fifth and final recruit for the Bisons for the 2020-21 season is another Eastman Selects product in Kylie Lesuk. Lesuk has been one of the most outstanding players for Eastman for the last few seasons, notching 17 goals and 22 assists in 46 games last season. Lesuk uses her size and reach well in the middle of the ice to generate offence, and uses her body to protect the puck along the boards. Lesuk's 44 points in 64 games in 2017-18 shows consistency in her game, and she'll reunite with former teammates Meagan Relf, Camille Enns, and Lauren Warkentin on the Bisons. She'll be a solid addition down the middle for the Herd.

It seems there will be little suspense on who the Bisons recruit this upcoming year with their announcement today. If there's one thing that's certain, the foundation for the next few years is being built in this season and the next, and that foundation looks solid. Whether or not the Bisons can replicate their success in winning a national championship from two years ago remains to be seen, but it seems inevitable that they will be in the discussion as these new players mature together.

Welcome to the Herd, ladies! We're excited to get to know you!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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