The Bisons women’s and men’s 2023-24 hockey seasons begin this week with both teams playing a back-to-back series against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. The women start their season on the road in Saskatoon, playing Friday and Saturday night, while the men will play at home Thursday night before hosting a matinee game on Friday in Wayne Fleming Arena, located on Fort Garry Campus in the Max Bell Centre.
With the opening games set, here are some storylines to follow over the hockey season.
Helmed once again by veteran head coach Jon Rempel, the Bisons women’s team will be looking to improve last year’s record. Having gone 12-16, the herd just missed the CanWest playoffs.
The Bisons went into the final series against the University of Alberta Pandas with their season on the line, needing to win their final two games to secure the last playoff spot in the CanWest standings. However, the Bisons’ 4-1 loss in the first game of the series ultimately eliminated them from playoff contention. Finishing the season so close to the playoffs is definite motivation for returning players.
Returning goaltender, and a 2021 and 2022 Bison female Athlete of the Week, Kimberley Davidson enters the season with a praiseworthy record. Last season, Davidson recorded an incredible .897 save percentage and 2.65 goals against average, making 200 saves in net.
Other players to watch for on the team are returning forwards Kate Gregoire and Ashley Keller.
Gregoire, who played for the golf team during the 2019-20 season and was named to the 2019-20 hockey CanWest All-Rookie Team, led the Bisons last season in overall points and goals. The forward recorded 10 goals and eight assists in the 2022-23 season.
Fellow forward Keller, who was named a Bison female Athlete of the Week, CanWest female Hockey Player of the Week and CanWest Women’s Hockey All-Star in the 2021-22 season, recorded a team-leading nine assists and was second overall on the team for points with 13 last season.
The main storyline for the men’s hockey team is centred on its new head coach, Gordon Burnett, who boasts a wealth of experience coaching in the minor leagues. Burnett has big shoes to fill as he replaces long-time men’s team head coach Mike Sirant, who had coached the team since the 1993-94 season and is the winningest head coach in men’s hockey program history.
However, last season the men’s team also failed to make the playoffs. Having gone 8-20, the herd was relying on help from the out-of-town scoreboard, and needed to defeat the University of Alberta Golden Bears during its final series of the 2022-23 season. Unfortunately, the Bisons lost both games and were eliminated from post-season contention.
Players to watch for on the men’s team this season are returning forward Hayden Ostir, returning defencemen Chase Hartje and returning goaltender Ross Hawryluk.
Ostir was named a Bison male Athlete of the Week this February, having scored six goals in his last three games. Ostir also tied for second overall in points and goals last season, with 19 points and 10 goals.
Impressively, teammate and one of last October’s male Athletes of the Week Hartje tied Ostir for second overall points, with the defencemen also recording 19 points last season.
Finally, goaltender Hawryluk recorded an impressive .894 save percentage last season, making 505 saves with a 4.18 goals against average.