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Bison Men End Regular Season on a High Note

By Rob Mahon

February 13, 2017

At the start of the second half, the Manitoba Bison men’s hockey team was so far out of the home playoff race, even getting to .500 seemed an uphill struggle. By the time the second half ended, the team had climbed the standings and missed the fourth and final home playoff spot by the slimmest of margins.

Only a single win separated the Bisons and their first round playoff opponent, the Mount Royal Cougars. With that in mind, the season series sweep by Mount Royal now looms even larger. If the Bison men win even one of those four games, we’re having a different conversation about playoff positioning.

But, for Manitoba, there are plenty of positives to take out of the second half, not least of which is, quite simply, they’re playing their best hockey of the season. Maybe of the last two seasons. The team went on an astounding 8-3-1 run in the second half, the highlights of which included:

-Not one but two weekend sweeps, one each over Regina and Lethbridge, the latter of which included a 9-3 drubbing of a Pronghorns team they were, at the time, tied with in the standings.

-Splitting a series on the road with the conference-leading Saskatchewan Huskies, shutting them out in the second game, marking the first and only time the Huskies were blanked in their own barn all year.

-Three shutouts by starting goaltender Byron Spriggs, and a couple of assists for good measure.

-A victory in the senior game over the second placed Alberta Golden Bears, the team with perhaps the best offense in the conference. This game had a highlight of its own when Jordan DePape, in what was likely his last game at Wayne Fleming Arena in Bison colours, scored the game-winning goal on the power play and was named the first star of the game. A storybook ending to a highly storied Bison career for the captain.

But then, it wasn’t really the end for DePape’s career, just as it wasn’t really the end of the Bison men’s season. Whatever chapters are yet to be written will be penned on the road, as Manitoba heads into Mount Royal. They’re up against a team they haven’t beaten in two years, but they’re playing the best hockey, in my opinion, they’ve played at any point in those two years.

Go forth and conquer, gentlemen. We’ll be watching from afar.

Rob

 

 

 

Bisons Poised for Second Half Run

By Nolan Kowal

January 13, 2017

A fully healthy lineup, a goaltender who is playing his best hockey of the season, and a schedule that has the team playing their final games against opponents who are near them in the standings.

Yes, the Manitoba Bisons men’s hockey team has a lot of things going for them right now. The Bison men returned from the Christmas break and won both games against the lowly Regina Cougars last weekend at Wayne Fleming Arena, improving their record to 8-9-1 on the season. Goalie Byron Spriggs, who seems to be tightening his grip on the starting goalie position, recorded a 23-save shutout on Friday night. Remarkably, that’s the first team shutout for the Herd this season, a testament to the fact this team has struggled to keep the puck out of their own net at times.

We expect to see Byron Spriggs carry the brunt of the load in the second half, as Justin Paulic has been very inconsistent all season long. But perhaps even more important than who plays between the pipes is the fact this team is finally healthy again.

Only forwards Shaq Merasty and Justin Augert have played all 18 games for the Bisons this season. The injuries have hit hard on the back end. Alternate captain Lee Christensen missed eight games in the first half, Rene Hunter missed three due to injury/illness, and Adam Henry missed a pair of games in October.

Up front, captain Jordan DePape has missed five games with a variety of injuries that have nagged him all season. Off-season recruit Remi Laurencelle has missed four, and Brett Stovin has missed three.

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But thanks to the Christmas break, the Bisons iced a fully healthy lineup this past weekend and they got the results they were looking for. With the exception of Rene Hunter, who has been suspended one game for a hit on Regina Cougars forward Tristan Frei and won’ travel with the team this weekend, the Bisons will bring the same lineup into UBC tonight.

Another function of the healthy lineup is the reunition of the Merasty-Stovin-DePape line. They played together for much of last season, but not this year.

“Because of the injuries and sickness in the first half, we didn’t have an opportunity to get consistency in our lineup or in our lines,” said head coach Mike Sirant. “Now that everybody’s healthy, we’re at a point right now that we like the combinations that we have, so we’ll be going with it until there’s a reason to change.”

“That’s a real good line. They need to lead the way, they need to be our best line and they need to compete against other team’s top lines as well.”

The Bisons enter this weekend’s series against the Thunderbirds in sixth place in the Canada West standings, which is the last playoff spot. They’re three points ahead of UBC, and two points behind the Lethbridge Pronghorns—next weekend’s opponent.

As always, things are pretty tight right now:

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“Of course you’re curious so you are looking at the schedule seeing who’s playing where…I think that’s just the natural thing,” said Sirant. “We’re aware of what’s going on around us and how results in other rinks have implications on the standings and us. But right now our focus is on us doing our job and focusing on how we need to play and playing to our strengths.”

The Bisons are 1-1 against UBC this season.

The Herd don’t play at home again until January 27, when the Calgary Dinos travel to Winnipeg.

 

 

 

Bison Men End Difficult First Half

By Rob Mahon

December 3, 2016

To say the Manitoba Bison men’s hockey team had an up-and-down first half is to sell the team’s rocky road to Christmas short.

The first half was filled with the highest of highs (beating the Saskatchewan Huskies, the second-ranked team in the country at the time, by a 5-2 count at Wayne Fleming Arena) and the lowest of lows (losing all four games to the Mount Royal Cougars for the second straight year).

Often unpredictable, at times vexing, never boring, the Bison men are a team hunting an identity, and they’ve had to sift through the dark waters of injuries, illness, losing streaks, and lineup changes in search of it.

So what is the identity of the 2016-17 Bison men’s hockey team? The team will tell you they are a fast, aggressive, up-tempo team with depth and physicality. They’ll tell you their record, a pedestrian 6-9-1 through 16 games, doesn’t show the kind of team they are. Our last look at them on home ice, a weekend in which they took three of a possible four points from conference powerhouse Saskatchewan, would seem to vindicate that statement.

One of the major obstacles for the Bison men, however, was inconsistency; you never quite knew which Bison team was going to show up on any given night, and at times that could be taken literally. They have one of the biggest rosters in Canada West, and the lineup changes for them came on a nightly basis.

Of course not all of their lineup changes have been voluntary. The injury bug didn’t just bite the Bison men, it sank its teeth in to the bone and hung on like a tick, taking everyone from captain and leading scorer Jordan DePape to rookie scoring leader Remi Laurencelle out of the lineup at various points in the first half.

While the team says they won’t let injuries be an excuse, it will no doubt be nice to have the break to get healthy, and await reinforcements in the form of defenseman Blake Heinrich.

The Bison men will need all the reinforcements they can get, because back-to-back losses to Mount Royal have them sitting in sixth place, six points back of Lethbridge, eight points back of Mount Royal for the final home playoff spot, and, most worrying of all, just two points up on UBC for the final playoff spot in the Canada West Conference.

When the second half begins, this Bison team will need to be healthy and ready to grind. The last twelve games of the season will be the hardest fought yet as the playoffs near. If the Bison men want to get into any playoff action this year, they’ve got their work cut out for them.

Bisons continue to flip-flop goalies

By Nolan Kowal

I’ve always been a big believer that if a hockey team is serious about winning a championship, they need to have one proven goaltender that they lean on. Like the quarterback in football, the goaltender is arguably the most important position on the ice.

When the Bison men hosted UBC on Oct. 28, Byron Spriggs played great and led the Herd to a 3-2 win. I thought ‘Great, this will give Spriggs a chance to grab hold of the starting goalie position and run with it.’

But instead, head coach Mike Sirant elected to start Justin Paulic the next night. The Bisons lost, and the first goal Paulic gave up wasn’t a great goal.

Then this past weekend in Calgary, Spriggs and Paulic once again shared the crease, playing one game each. Spriggs lost Friday and Paulic won Saturday. Who starts this Friday against the Lethbridge Pronghorns? I have no idea.

Look, I understand it’s the CIS and coaches want to give playing time to all of their guys. But this Bison men’s team is as good as they’ve been in years. I really think Mike Sirant needs to pick one goalie and stick with him for a few games in a row. See what he can do…see if the players in front of him play with more confidence and most importantly, see if the chosen goalie plays with more confidence. Because sometimes all a goalie needs to succeed is more playing time.

The Saskatchewan Huskies are the defending Canada West champions, and they’re in first place again this year. Their goaltender, Jordon Cooke, has played all 10 games this year. Coincidence? Nope.

Pick one guy and stick with him. If it were up to me, I’d go with Spriggs. His numbers are quite a bit better than Paulic’s, and he’s looked like the more confident goalie in the games I’ve called.

Last year, we saw Spriggs and Paulic virtually split the games, with Spriggs appearing in 15 and Paulic 14, before Paulic took over for the playoffs. I really hope we don’t see a repeat of this trend. Give Spriggs the opportunity to play a few games in a row and see what happens.

The Bisons host the Lethbridge Pronghorns this Friday evening and Saturday afternoon at Wayne Fleming Arena.

BISON MEN BOUNCE BACK

By Rob Mahon

We knew right from the start of this year this wasn’t going to be the offensively challenged Bison men’s team of years past. The team had done such a good job recruiting and picking the best possible players out of the WHL, MJHL, and even QMJHL that it seemed impossible they would have any trouble scoring.

So imagine our surprise when the team managed to score only two goals over the course of an entire weekend series against Mount Royal.

It was a rude awakening for a Bison team buoyed by optimism after a 7-2 preseason, which included two big weekend sweeps over Regina and Lakehead, and a 5-2 victory over last year’s conference champion Saskatchewan Huskies. But as head coach Mike Sirant told us, the preseason is a different animal.

One area in which the preseason was similar to the regular season was the result in last night’s game between the Bison men and the Regina Cougars. The Cougars struggled mightily against Manitoba in the preseason, losing two games over a weekend by a combined 11-2 score. The Bison picked up where they’d left off on Friday night, bagging a 5-1 win in Regina.

The score is a bit misleading on that one. After all, the Bison surrendered 38 shots. We’d said on our podcast this week  that one of the Bison goalies was going to have to put in a stellar performance to elevate himself above the other with competition for the number one goalie position so tight. Perhaps Byron Spriggs did just that. We’ll know a bit more after today’s 4 P.M. rematch.

It’s not as if the game was one-sided, shots wise. Manitoba did, after all, put up 30 shots of their own, and snipe five goals past Andy Desautels. It’s worth noting, however, that while none of those goals was listed as into an empty net, three goals did come in the third period in a stretch of just over 11 minutes. This was not the easy game the box score made it out to be.

On the positive side, the line of Shaq Merasty, Remi Laurencelle, and Justin Augert had another strong game after accounting for both Manitoba goals in their opening weekend. Merasty scored the game-winning goal, and Augert added two more plus an assist. Laurencelle had two assists.

This time the talented trio didn’t have to do all the heavy lifting, however. Brett Stovin, one of the most impressive rookies in Canada West last season, got on the board in the third period, with assists going to Jordan DePape (good to see him back in the lineup) and Nick Zajac. That’s a line that could do some major damage in Canada West this year if they can stick together.

Quintin Lisoway added the fifth and final marker for Manitoba, and it seems, for now at least, the scoring woes that beset Manitoba in the first weekend are behind them. Getting DePape, last year’s Canada West leading scorer, back into the lineup helped undoubtedly, but it’s worth remembering this is still a young Bison team. There were always going to be some hiccups, but as the year goes on they’re bound to get more consistent.

And consistency can be a hard thing to come by in Canada West. Just last night UBC, the team Manitoba hosts on our next game on 101.5 UMFM, got their first win of the season, a 5-2 decision over Alberta. Given that they were 0-4 coming in and Alberta is a powerhouse, this can only be considered an upset. It’s shaping up to be a close, hard-fought season for the Bison men, and we’ll have coverage of every high and low right here. Looking forward to a great season!

Rob