Canada West champs

After knocking off the Calgary Dinos a week before at home with a best-of-three series sweep, the sixth-ranked Bison women hockey team went on the road to play the defending Canada West and CIS women’s hockey champion Alberta Pandas in the conference finals. The Bisons would come up victorious, sweeping the Pandas in a historic series that earned the University of Manitoba our second ever Canada West championship.

The Bisons had defeated the Pandas three times during the regular season, including both games played in Edmonton, but no one expected a sweep on the road against a team that had not been swept in the conference finals at home in the past 14 years. The Bisons were clicking on special teams, as all of their goals in their 2-0 and 2-1 victories on Feb. 25-26 occurred either on the power play or shorthanded.

The Bisons finished the Canada West conference regular season in second place with a record of 16-5-3, and lost only three games by more than one goal. With the series victory over Alberta, the Bisons will be heading off to play for the CIS national championship at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. this upcoming weekend.

“At this point it’s about confidence and mental toughness,” said head coach Jon Rempel, when asked about the strategy heading into the CIS national championships.

The team had to overcome some bizarre adversity, including a controversial reversal on a shootout-winning goal against the Calgary Dinos that resulted in the Dinos being awarded the shootout victory when the game was officially finished months later.

Perhaps the most impressive example of just how strong this team has been in the face of adversity came on the road in Alberta, on Nov. 27. After getting off to a slow start, the Bisons soon found themselves down four goals to none early in the second period. But the Bisons would not give up and, thanks in large part to some great coaching from seventh-year Bison head coach Jon Rempel, the Bisons would ultimately tie the game with 2.7 seconds to go in the game, winning it early in overtime. The game would complete the Bisons’ first ever sweep on the road in Alberta and would come to represent this team’s never-say-die attitude.

“It’s been a very good group,” said Coach Rempel. “Anytime you win anything, I think your group has to persevere through some stuff and that’s happened with this group this year.”

Throughout the playoffs, all the Bison players have stepped up their play, but perhaps no other player has been as clutch as first-year forward Meagan Vestby. The Swan River-born player has scored three goals so far during the Bison playoff run this year, all of them game-winners. Vestby was the one who scored the eventual Canada West championship-clinching goal on the power play with only five minutes to go in a 1-1 tie game.

Vestby described her series clinching goal as giving her an “an awesome feeling,” but made it known that it was “definitely a whole team win.” For her post-season performance, Vestby was awarded the Smitty’s Bison Sports Female Athlete of the Week for the week ending Feb. 27, 2011.

The Bisons spent the past week on a playoff bye, as they made preparations for their trip to Waterloo for the CIS national championships. The Bisons have been to the CIS championships four times in the program’s history, but have never secured the national title. We here at the Manitoban wish the team the very best as they try to secure a CIS national championship for the University of Manitoba.