Bisons and ‘staches and Bears, oh my!

The Bison men’s hockey team, ranked eighth in CIS hockey, played host to the number one ranked University of Alberta Golden Bears this past weekend at the Max Bell Centre, earning an extremely hard-fought two points.

Friday night’s action saw the Bison’s take it to the Bears in a 4-2 victory. The first period resembled river hockey, with dynamic end-to-end play. Blair MacAuley cut in on a breakaway, but was hauled down by a Bear defender. MacAuley was awarded with a penalty shot but Alberta goalkeeper Kurtis Mucha closed the door, keeping the score tied at 0-0 going into the second.

It wasn’t until the 17:26 mark of the second that the scoring was opened. Bisons Kyle Howarth put one in past a sprawling Mucha on a tic-tac-toe feed from linemate Brandon Lockerby, putting the home team ahead by one going into the final frame.

Some desperation from the Bisons resulted in a penalty shot being awarded to the Bears Derek Ryan, who put the puck in past Bisons goaltender Steve Christie, tying the game up at the 7:27 mark of the third period.

Nearly five minutes later, Howarth potted his second of the night, putting the home team ahead. 15:02 saw a highlight reel goal being put in by a tumbling Blair MacAuley, who made no mistake, putting the puck in top shelf on a sprawling Mucha.

Shortly after, Alberta made full use of a power play, as Eric Hunter put one in past Christie at 19:06 of the third. Manitoba then called a time out to calm the troops. With the Bears goalie pulled, Bison captain Mike Hellyer zipped past the Alberta defenders, making his blueline shot count with three seconds remaining, sealing the victory for Manitoba 4-2.

“I thought that was a playoff-style game,” said Bears forward Ryan. “It was well fought and fast paced. [Manitoba] got better bounces and obviously they got a huge two points, so I thought it was a good game.”

“[Alberta] put up a lot of goals and their defencemen love to jump into the play, so we focused on our forwards to come back hard and take away their rush,” said Howarth.

Added Ryan, “[The Bisons] are always a tough team. They’re seventh, or ninth, or something like that in Canada. They’re always a tough team to play defensively, so I was kind of surprised we got as many offensive chances. We’re going to have to bear down and take advantage of those chances tomorrow night.”

The next night saw the Bears squeak out a 3-2 win. Similar to Friday, Saturday saw the game being scoreless going into the second frame. The Bisons opened the scoring with a goal from Greg Beller, putting the puck upstairs at 1:23 of the second.

After coming off a two man advantage, the Bears Chad Klassen floated one in past Christie at 10:17. Then, with players in the sin bin from both teams, the Bears took full advantage of the 4-on-4 play. Jesse Craige blasted the puck in past a screened Christie on the goalmouth scramble at 14:01 of the second. The Bears outshot the Bisons in the second frame 8-1.

Going into the third, the Bears struck early as Klassen potted his second of the night at 1:57. Bison rookie defenceman Jeremy Schappert put in the long shot nearly seven minutes later. Manitoba pulled goaltender Christie for the extra attacker, but were ultimately unable to tie the game.

“I think it was just that we had a lapse in the second period,” stated Bisons Beller post-game. “The Bears are number one in the country and we definitely showed that we could play with them. It was tough for us; we only have three lines going right now. [ . . . ] We kind of got worn down at the end.”

At the end of the game, Dane Crowley received a penalty for starting a ruckus in the Alberta zone, drawing a few punches and pushes.

“It’s just two good teams going at it. It got a little crazy at the end,” said Klassen. “Both teams are pretty heated and, luckily, we came out with the two points tonight and are looking forward to [the Bisons] coming out to our barn after Christmas.”

Running concurrently with Saturday’s game was a Movember fundraiser organized by members of the men’s hockey team. Bison players who were sitting out sold 50/50 tickets and moustache buttons, all to raise money for prostate cancer research.

STREAKERS: Blair MacAuley is currently on a four-game point scoring streak, and Greg Beller is on a two-game point scoring streak.

NEXT ACTION: With the first half of the season over, the Bisons don’t see any league action until Jan. 14-15, when they travel west to play the hosting Huskies in Saskatoon. Manitoba’s next home action will come Jan. 21-22 against the Lethbridge Pronghorns.