Bisons welcome Mount Royal to town for playoffs

A comprehensive breakdown of this weekend’s quarter-final matchup

Bison men's hockey team in action against the Mount Royal Cougars.Bison men's hockey team in action against the Mount Royal Cougars.

The University of Manitoba Bisons men’s hockey team will face off against a familiar foe in the Canada West hockey playoffs this weekend.

For the second year in a row, Manitoba will play the Mount Royal Cougars in the Canada West quarter-final. This time, however, the Bisons will host MRU at Wayne Fleming Arena in Winnipeg. The Manitoban breaks down this weekend’s series.

The matchup

Hosting the Cougars in Winnipeg suits the Bisons just fine. The Bisons were phenomenal at home this season, ending with a home record of 11-3. Mount Royal rounded out the season with a .500 record of 7-7  on the road. Head to head this season, Manitoba came away with three of the four victories. It started back in October when the Bisons swept their first two meetings in Winnipeg by finals of 4-1 and 3-2. The Cougars were able to knock off Manitoba 4-3 in Calgary back in January, but the Bisons responded with a 1-0 win the next night. Both teams average around 30 shots per game, but the Bisons have 20 more goals scored throughout the season.

The Bisons

Manitoba comes in to the playoffs sporting a 16-10-2 record on the season, finishing third in the Canada West standings. The herd are led offensively by the line of Michael St. Croix, Kamerin Nault, and Zach Franko. St. Croix led the team in scoring and finished third in conference with 13 goals and 22 assists for 35 points in 28 games played. Nault and Franko punched out with 20 and 24 points, respectively.

Defensively, Manitoba is led by Adam Henry. The third-year defenceman finished the 2017-18 campaign with his best season yet, finishing inside the top 20 in Canada West scoring for the first time in his U-SPORTS career after totalling five goals and 20 assists for 25 points.

Between the pipes, fourth-year goaltender Byron Spriggs carried the mail for the Bisons. Spriggs appeared in 25 games in the regular season, and finished with a record of 14-9-2. Those 14 wins were good for second in Canada West, and Spriggs led the Canada West in minutes played with 1434:52 and in saves with 815. He rounded out his season with a save percentage of .908 and had goals against average (GAA) of 3.14. Dasan Sydora appeared in 5 games for Manitoba this season and had a record of 2-1, while Justin Paulic saw action in one game, an 8-6 win against Regina on Jan. 26.

The Bisons had no trouble lighting the lamp this season, scoring 99 times in 28 games.

Key to victory: If the Bisons want to come out on top of this playoff series, they will need to continue to consistently put pucks on net. They averaged 30.1 shots a game, and it yielded results in the last few weeks of the season with 30 goals in the last seven games. Spriggs will also need to be ready to shut down the attack of the Cougars.

The Cougars

Mount Royal comes in to the Canada West playoffs after suffering a sweep at the hands of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in Saskatoon last weekend.

The Cougars are led up front by Jamal Watson and Brad Kennedy. Watson tallied eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points on the season while Kennedy wrapped up with 12 goals and eight assists for 20 points. Mount Royal scored a total of 79 times through 28 games this season, and were surprisingly led by their back end in scoring as defenceman Jesse Lees finished up the campaign with 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points in 26 games this season.

Forward Connor Rankin capped off this season with just 15 points but is not to be overlooked as he led all of Canada West in scoring last season with an astonishing 35 points in 26 games for Mount Royal.

In goal for the Cougars is Cam Lanigan, who has a record of 9-8-1 for Mount Royal this season. He boasts an .908 save percentage and a GAA of 2.59.

Key to victory: The Cougars will need to calm the Bisons offensive attack if they want to come out on top of this series. They gave up 11 goals in four games to Manitoba, so they will need to lock down their defensive zone. Mount Royal will also need to improve their power play and capitalize on their opportunities against Manitoba, which was just 7.1 per cent versus the Bisons this season.