Best in the nation

Bisons shutout Mustangs to win first national championship in program history

Bison forward Lauryn Keen celebrates her opening goal against Western University in the U SPORTS Women's Hockey National final on March 18 in London, Ont.Bison forward Lauryn Keen celebrates her opening goal against Western University in the U SPORTS Women's Hockey National final on March 18 in London, Ont.

The University of Manitoba Bisons stampeded over the University of Western Ontario Mustangs 2-0 in the U SPORTS Women’s Hockey National gold medal game to win the first national championship in program history.

After a tense first 20 minutes, the Bisons broke through, scoring late in the second and riding the momentum to a 2-0 championship victory.

Chances remained even through the opening 20 minutes of play before penalty trouble caught up to the Mustangs in the second period.

With Alyssa Chiarello sitting for tripping, Bison Lauryn Keen went to work. She peeled out of the corner, and ripped a shot top-corner on Western goalie Carmen Lasis to give the herd a 1-0 lead.

“I kind of just didn’t even think about it,” Keen said. “I got the puck on the wall there and I saw that I had a little bit of space, so I just went for it and by the sound of it there wasn’t much room.”

Manitoba carried the lead into the third where the club’s resident Olympian showed why she won bronze. Venla Hovi tore out of the corner just like Keen, putting one short-side for the 2-0 lead.

“I didn’t see it go in at first,” Hovi said. “I had a million chances this tournament and I was like, ‘I can’t buy a goal’ and kept trying to make plays and finally, I was super happy.”

With three minutes to go, Bison defender Alexandra Anderson got tangled up and brought down a Western player in the corner. She was given a tripping call on the play, and Western pulled their goalie for a 6-on-4 opportunity.

Western struggled to get anything on goal and after April Clark was ejected for hitting Anderson from behind, and the Bisons were able close it out.

“Man I don’t even know what to tell you right now,” Bisons head coach Jon Rempel said postgame.

“I’m so excited for these players that I can’t really put it into words. I don’t even know what to say, I’m just so happy for everybody. We’ve worked so hard as a group in the last – you’ve heard me say it a thousand times – worked so hard these last four or five years. To bring this group together, adding pieces, keep knocking at the door, just don’t take no for an answer.”

Rempel’s long tenured assistant coach Rob Voth was similarly speechless.

“It’s just so unbelievable,” he said. “I don’t know how you could express it any other way, this is just unbelievable. Yeah, unbelievable.”

Momentum swung distinctly in favour of the Bisons in the final 40 minutes. Bison goalie Lauren Taraschuk had to make a number of key stops and important moments. The rookie was unfazed by the contact she received by Mustangs collapsing on goal, or more importantly the pressure of the situation. She finished the game with a 20 save shutout.

“Incredible, there’s no words right now,” Taraschuk said. “I don’t think it’s sunk in yet but we’re going to enjoy this moment.”

Taraschuk’s mentor and goalie-partner Rachel Dyck admitted it hadn’t hit her just yet either.

“I don’t really have any words,” Dyck said. “This is everything we dreamed of, everything we worked for all season it paid off.”

Fellow senior Alana Serhan was all smiles during the celebration. She maintained – despite not considering Manitoba as an initial option – there was nowhere else she would have rather play.

“I’ve had some people definitely pass me over,” she said.

“Jon brought me to Manitoba for a reason and I couldn’t imagine playing anywhere else. The people I played with over the years and playing for Jon, he’s an absolutely phenomenal coach, and yeah I can’t even describe it.”

Alana Sharman was named to the tournament all-star team, recording a goal and two assists in three games. She was an offensive force for the Bisons, which included making a great play at the Mustangs blue-line to halt their advance, fighting past two defenders and beating another on her knees.

“I mean it’s just a testament to our team and all our hard work,” Sharman said. “We had three of the five all-stars. [There’s] just no words, it’s awesome.

“Winning this championship is what we’ve worked for – for me for the past four years – and it’s awesome.”

Assistant captain Erica Reider was an unsung hero in the tournament. She used her blazing speed to lead the attack from the back-end, making stick plays that ended numerous dangers threats by both Western and Concordia in the semifinal.

“We are the best team in the country,” Rieder said. “Yeah it’s surreal. I’m so honoured to play with the girls that are on this team and yeah unbelievable.”