For all the marbles: Bisons battle Golden Bears for conference title

This past weekend the men’s hockey team lost their best-of-three conference final series against the University of Alberta Golden Bears two games to one.

Manitoba earned a berth in the Canada West conference finals by defeating the University of Regina in the semi-final round of the playoffs.

In the first game of the series the Golden Bears outshot the Bisons 47-21 but were unable to make their effort translate on the scoreboard as Manitoba won the game by a score of 4-1.

The Bisons opened the scoring on just their second shot of the game when forward Jared Walker put a shot on goal that deflected off an Alberta player and into the net. Later in the period, defenseman Stephane Lenoski scored a power play goal that put Manitoba up 2-0 going into the first intermission.

The Bisons’ early success was due in large part to their penalty kill, which kept the Golden Bears from capitalizing on four separate man-advantage situations in the first period. In the second, however, the power play finally clicked for Alberta when winger Brian Woolger put home a rebound that cut the home team’s deficit to one.

Despite being outshot in all three periods, Bisons goalie Steve Christie made certain that Manitoba never surrendered their lead as the third-year netminder turned away 46 out of a total 47 shots on net. Brandon Lockerby and Blair Macaulay both added goals for the Bisons and Christie was named the game’s first star.

The following night the Bison’s had an opportunity to close out the series and win their first conference championship in nearly 45 years, but Alberta was determined to earn a better fate than they received their previous outing. With so much on the line, Saturday’s game was a much tighter, more competitive affair.

After a scoreless opening period Manitoba got on the board first with a slapshot goal from Ian Duval that beat Alberta goalie Travis Yonkman, blocker side. The Golden Bears managed to score the equalizer nearly seven minutes later when Alberta forward Eric Hunter snapped a shot from behind the goal line that bounced off Christie’s pads and into the net.

With both teams tied going into the third, the game took an uncharacteristically undisciplined tone that saw six penalties called in the span of 16 minutes. It was only a matter of time until one team took advantage of the extra man. Alberta, a team fighting for better results, made sure they wouldn’t be leaving this game empty handed when forward Sean Ringrose collected a rebound from Hunter and lifted it over a downed Bisons goaltender to put the Golden Bears up 2-1.

With less than five minutes to play the Bisons gave a spirited effort but couldn’t tie it up before the end of regulation. Once again Manitoba netminder Steve Christie was named in the game’s three stars for his effort.

With the series tied one game apiece, both teams entered into what was effectively a sudden death match for the conference championship on Sunday.

“It’s everything you could want in the playoffs,” said Bisons head coach Mike Sirant, “a one game match-up for the championship.”

The action was fast paced Sunday night as both teams stormed out of the gate looking to make a statement. Alberta opened the scoring only 1:17 into the first period on a goal by Golden Bears defenceman Ian Barteaux. Seven minutes later the home team added another tally to their lead, but the Bisons responded in kind with a power play goal from Manitoba forward Rick Wood to keep the score close at 2-1.

In the opening frame of game three, this time it was Manitoba that was having trouble finishing their scoring chances. In 20 minutes of play both teams combined for a total of 30 shots on goal, yet the Golden Bears went 1-1 on the power play and managed to convert on three scoring chances. The Bisons, on the other hand, received four straight power play opportunities but only went 1-4.

In the second, penalties continued to cost the Bisons as Alberta forward Jesse Gimblett was able to net a power play marker for the Golden Bears to put them up by a score of 4-1.

Unfortunately for Manitoba, a three goal lead was all Alberta needed to keep the Bisons out of the game. Despite outshooting Alberta in the third period the only goal Manitoba was able to secure to chip away at the lead came at 19:56 of the third period. The Golden Bears went on to win the series deciding game by a score of 4-2.

With the victory, the University of Alberta continues its dominance over Canada West, winning its eighth conference title and W.G. Hardy Trophy in nine years.

The Bison men’s team will play next at the CIS championship tournament, March 25-28 at Lakehead University.