The 2018-19 season was one full of ups and downs for the U of M Bisons.
The women’s hockey team made it to its second national championship in as many years, and the track and field team impressed as hosts of a national tournament, while the football team was one and done in the playoffs.
Heading into the 2019-20 season, Bisons fans will have plenty of reasons to watch their favourite squads. From teams trying to regain former glory to others trying to stave off a fall from grace, there are more than a few stories to watch from the Bisons this year.
Nowhere but up for men’s hockey
There are a lot of adjectives to describe how rough the 2018-19 Bisons men’s hockey season was. The herd finished seventh in the eight-team conference at 14 points, posting a 6-20-2 record.
Yet as the old saying goes, “there’s nowhere to go but up.”
Losing captain Brett Stovin, forward Zach Franko, long-time goaltending tandem Byron Spriggs and Dasan Sydora and defensive stalwart Sean Christensen will certainly sting, but the club has a wealth of talent ready to take a step forward.
Keaton Jameson showed flashes of brilliance in his first season with Manitoba, filling in as the team’s number one centre more than once. A line featuring Jameson, Jeremey Leipsic and Colton Veloso would have all the pieces needed to dominate in a tough and fast conference.
Jameson is skilled on the draw, can play physically and moves the puck well, Leipsic is evasive, mobile and has a great finish, while Veloso has plenty of skill to go along with his own physicality.
Looking at the backend, the Bisons sport the more experienced Mackenzie Dwyer and Thomas Lenchyschyn, will get a full season out of Ryan Carlson and still have the veteran presence of Adam Henry for his final season.
The most intriguing and important addition will come in the crease, as Bisons fans will finally get to see Tyler Brown in action.
The rookie netminder was a sought-after commodity after a strong Western Hockey League career, and with surgery and recovery in the rear-view he will be ready for action come training camp.
Where will women’s hockey land?
After two fantastic seasons — including a national championship title in 2017-18 — the Bisons women’s hockey team has hit a bit of a snag.
Weeks after the team returned with a fifth-place finish at the 2019 U Sports women’s national hockey championship, goaltender Lauren Taraschuk announced she was leaving the team.
This move put an immediate hole in the Bisons depth chart and left Erin Fargey to shoulder the load heading into her second season.
The loss of Taraschuk came on top of a large graduating class for Manitoba. Captain Erica Rieder, forwards Alanna Sharman, Lauryn Keen, Karissa Kirkup, Natasha Kostenko, Erin Kucheravy and Courtlyn Oswald, as well as defender Alexandra Anderson, all closed out their Canada West careers in 2019.
With them goes much of Manitoba’s top six up front, the top defensive pair, a chunk of the team’s penalty kill and almost all of both its powerplay units.
To say this hurts the herd would be an understatement.
There is a silver lining to this situation as head coach Jon Rempel is returning from a well-earned sabbatical to lead the Bisons bench. Veteran netminder Amanda Schubert is also returning to provide much needed experience in the Bisons crease, as well as the dressing room.
Jordyn Zacharias and Allison Sexton will be relied on heavily as the team’s only seniors, while Jenai Buchanan and Lauren Warkentin provide a strong top pair for the new look of the herd.
Kaitlyn Chatyrbok and Chloe Snaith will return more seasoned for their second year in brown and gold, and Mekaela Fisher will hopefully see an expanded role.
This may not be the dominant Bisons team fans have become used to over the past few years, but in a tight Canada West conference, anything is possible.
How far can Catellier carry Bisons football?
Undoubtedly one of the most important pieces to any football roster is the quarterback, and the herd has a stud at that position with Des Catellier.
The Alberta-born player was among the best at his position during the 2018 Canada West season. However, a major question heading into his fourth year with the Bisons will be his health.
Catellier came out firing during the opening half of the season but was banged up heading into the bye week, and coming out of it, Manitoba’s offence all but dried up. Outscoring opponents 171-158 before the Oct. 6 bye, the club only scored 20 points down the stretch in the two games where Catellier was taking snaps.
The quarterback missed the final game of the season due to an injury suffered against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, but played well in his playoff return against a dominant University of Calgary Dinos squad.
Catellier can get the job done — and, when healthy, is among the best in the nation at his position. The main issue is just that, his health.
Manitoba’s offensive line did little to help its quarterback, as Catellier was among the most sacked quarterbacks in the conference, which could easily have led to him being so banged up during the latter half of the season.
The club’s defence struggled as well in 2018, allowing 219 points in games where Catellier played.
For the herd to return to its former glory on the gridiron, both units need to be firing.
The team simply cannot outscore its issues, and if Catellier falls injured again, the defence will need to lock it down.
Catellier can take his team far, but a team is only as good as its weakest link, and what that will be for Bisons football remains to be seen.