For students at the U of M, the first rays of spring sunshine signal the coming end to a long academic year. Their grind is coming to an end, but for the student athletes on campus, the warming weather means something far tougher than term papers and finals — it means playoffs.
With women’s hockey already off to the post-season and track and field preparing to host nationals, it will be a busy spring at the U of M. However, which Bisons programs get in and which ones will have an early summer is far from final.
Of those, two storylines could reach their conclusion on the weekend.
Men’s hockey: holding out hope
Perhaps no Bisons team has had a more unfortunate season than the men’s hockey team.
A 2-2 start looked promising, with one win coming over the defending national champion University of Alberta Golden Bears. But from there, the team sank like an anchor in the Mariana Trench.
A 12-game losing streak plunged the herd to the bottom of the conference standings, but not all is lost when it comes to a playoff berth.
With a split over the University of Regina Cougars on the weekend, the Bisons sit six points back of the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns for the final playoff spot.
The Bisons and Pronghorns will meet next weekend, which could decide Manitoba’s fate.
If Lethbridge can sweep the series over Manitoba, they will clinch a playoff spot. However if the Bisons can win either game, it gets interesting.
Lethbridge has struggled against teams in the top-half of the conference, only winning against teams below or just above them in the standings.
The Pronghorns have yet to beat Calgary, Alberta, Saskatchewan or Mount Royal, and are set to play Alberta and Mount Royal to finish the season.
If the herd can take one or both of the games against the Pronghorns, it would need — at most — five points over the last four games to get into the playoffs.
Following a 2017-18 season where the Bisons finished fourth in the conference, the current season has been a step back.
After a weekend series against the Trinity Western University Spartans, the herd sits 10th in the conference at 7-9. With the top 12 teams in the conference making the playoffs, the Bisons need a strong finish and a bit of help from the rest of the conference to book a ticket to the dance.
With just two weeks left of the regular season, Manitoba’s next matchup may be the deciding factor. The Bisons will return to the court on Jan. 25 and 26 for a weekend set against the 6-10 Thompson Rivers University Wolfpack — the team currently occupying 13th spot in the standings.
Thompson Rivers and the 6-10 University of Victoria Vikes are the only teams outside the playoff picture capable of catching the Bisons at this point. All other teams are more than five games back with four games remaining.
A weekend sweep of Thompson Rivers would put the herd three games ahead of the Wolfpack with two games remaining. As for Victoria, its upcoming series against the 12th-place UBC Okanagan Heat is a win-win for Manitoba.
UBC Okanagan only has two games remaining on the season and holds the final playoff spot. If Victoria can split or sweep UBC Okanagan, the Bisons would need at most two wins in the final four games to stay ahead of the Heat and clinch a playoff spot.At this point, the only way Manitoba does not make the playoffs is if they go winless to end the season.