Finishing the tournament strong

Consolation finals win takes some of the sting out of failed repeat bid

Five members of the Bisons senior group gather for an emotional moment prior to puckdrop against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues Sunday Mar. 17.

It was not the finish they wanted, but the win still felt good.

With a 2-0 win over the University of Toronto Varsity Blues Sunday, the U of M Bisons women’s hockey team earned a fifth-place finish at the U Sports national women’s hockey championship.

In their final game wearing brown and gold, the senior class of Erica Rieder, Natasha Kostenko, Erin Kucheravy, Alanna Sharman, Karissa Kirkup, Lauryn Keen, Courtlyn Oswald and Alexandra Anderson played their hearts out. Keen and Kirkup each had a goal and an assist, while Sharman had an assist.

“They’re a dynasty,” Bisons interim head coach Sean Fisher said.

“That’s a special group. They accomplished so much in this program and we wanted to win the big one this year — obviously we probably had enough and just couldn’t quite get it done there on Thursday afternoon — […] I’m just super happy for those fifth years.”

After getting its first win of the tournament Saturday, the Bisons came out firing in the opening frame Sunday.

Jordyn Zacharias had the best chance of the first, picking up a spin pass from Sharman and dangling her way into the slot. She broke free from coverage and went to the backhand, but Toronto goaltender Erica Fryer stretched out to rob Zacharias with the glove.

Sunday’s game was extra special for Zacharias who was able to play against her cousin Kiyono Cox.

“We both obviously didn’t get the outcomes we wanted this weekend,” Zacharias said.

“But it was like ‘OK well let’s both make it to the consolation final, and then at least that way we can have fun with it and she’s in her last year so it was a good way to go out.”

“We had a deal that loser buys ice cream at the end of the game so I guess she owes me now,” she said.

After a scoreless first, it was Kirkup who struck first for Manitoba.

Sharman gained the zone, toe-dragged a defender and battled for space. She sent a pass across to a streaking Kirkup, and she made no mistake to make it 1-0 Bisons.

Kirkup was hurt in Manitoba’s tournament opening loss to the University of Guelph Gryphons and played a monster game for the herd Sunday. Playing with a separated shoulder, Kirkup posted two points and was involved all over the ice for her last game.

“It feels pretty incredible yeah,” she said.

“Number one thing, I’m so happy my parents are here and get to watch my last games of my career. Last year, going through different injuries — and even this weekend — I’m just very happy to have a second chance and take full advantage of that.”

With the seniors already heavily involved in the game, Kirkup got fifth-year forward Keen on the board.

Keen broke through the neutral zone and poked the puck up to Kirkup who gained the Toronto zone and put a shot on goal. Fryer made the stop but kicked the puck right to Keen and she buried it for the 2-0 Bisons lead.

From there, the game opened up further, going end to end with both clubs getting solid chances. Keepers Fryer and Lauren Taraschuk, though, held down their respective forts to give each side a chance to win.

Then in the final moments, with the net empty, Toronto nearly caught a break.

Taraschuk made a save and covered the puck but found herself piled on by three Varsity Blues players. Manitoba players descended on the net, filling the crease to help their netminder.

In the scrum, Bisons defender Lauren Warkentin earned herself a double minor with 1:16 left to play.

Toronto threw everything but the kitchen sink at Taraschuk, but the second-year netminder held firm to earn the shutout win.

With the win, the Bisons clinch a fifth-place finish at nationals and bring a long season to a close. A year removed from winning a national championship, the club got back to the dance but fell short.

From there the herd battled hard and will look to hit reset before challenging again in the 2019-20 season.