The defence starts here

Bisons begin road to Canada West championship repeat against UBC

Bisons captain Erica Rieder mans the blue line on an offensive sequence by the Bisons Feb. 2, 2019.

With two weeks of rest thanks to a first round bye, the U of M Bisons women’s hockey team is refreshed and ready to start its quest for glory tonight.

The herd will begin its chase for a second straight Canada West championship — and a berth in the national championship — against the UBC Thunderbirds at Wayne Fleming Arena.

In what will be the fifth matchup between the teams this season, fans have come to expect tight and angry competition. Both sides are strong on size and skill, and if the series goes to three games there could be some fireworks.

The two clubs split their season series in four one-goal games, and are even at nine goals each.

What could make the difference in this series is who scores first — but not in the way one would expect.

In each Bisons win against UBC, the Thunderbirds scored first — building up two-goal leads both times — while the herd scored first in each Thunderbirds win.

While neither team will be looking to give up the first goal, comeback wins are easy to come by between these two clubs. This, though, is not for lack of stiff competition in goal.

Tending the twine for UBC will be recently-announced first team all-star Tory Micklash. The Manitoba-born netminder had a 1.01 goals-against average and .950 save percentage in the regular season.

The fact the Bisons were able to average 2.25 goals-per-game against Micklash is promising, but the netminder has looked good in every appearance against the herd. Getting her off her game quickly will be paramount for the Bisons, while also containing Thunderbirds leading scorer Hannah Clayton-Carroll.

Lauren Taraschuk meanwhile will be tending the Bisons crease. The sophomore goalie finished the season with a 1.54 goals against average, .934 save percentage and led the conference with 17 wins.

On defence the pairing of Erica Rieder and Alexandra Anderson will be relied on heavily by the Bisons.

Their ability to control the puck under pressure and strength to stand up against checks will make them a nightmare for UBC forecheckers, while both have a first pass to rival any other defenders in the conference. Both can be relied on to move the puck up the ice while keeping it to the wall in their own zone.

A line of Karissa Kirkup, Lauryn Keen and Natasha Kostenko will also be great for the Bisons against a tough checking UBC squad. Kirkup’s speed to move the puck up the ice, Keen’s hands to make her own space in the offensive zone and Kostenko’s nose for the net will frustrate the UBC defence.

If all those factors coalesce this weekend, Wayne Fleming could see another Canada West final.

Game one of the series is tonight at Wayne Fleming Arena. Puckdrop is at 7 p.m. CST.