The University of Manitoba Bisons men’s hockey team faced off against the Trinity Western University (TWU) Spartans this past weekend in a two-game series, which was a clash of cellar dwellers, as each team is situated well outside of the CanWest playoff picture.
Nevertheless, each team played hard, fast and displayed valiant effort, never giving up on any plays and affording fans two extremely entertaining hockey games.
The herd entered play against TWU entrenched in a doleful seven-game losing streak, in which the Bisons could only muster an added total of 5 goals.
Its last victory was on Nov. 24 — a narrow but thrilling 3-2 overtime win against the University of Alberta Golden Bears. With the Bisons’ offence sputtering, the herd’s goalies needed to perform at their best for it to end its losing streak against the Spartans.
And perform is exactly what they did.
In the first game, Ross Hawryluk made a remarkable 51 saves on 52 Spartan shots, allowing only one power-play goal in the second period. Despite this minor blip, he almost single-handedly dragged the herd to a 3-1 victory.
The Bisons slotted home a trio of power-play goals — thanks to Dylan Thiessen, Hayden Ostir and Jackson Arpin.
The herd rode the momentum from its three first-period power-play goals all the way to the final buzzer. It was saved from defeat numerous times and likely would have lost the game had it not been for the tremendous individual heroics of Hawryluk, as the Spartans’ offensive pressure seemed incessant for significant spells.
On the season, Hawryluk boasts a terrific .918 save percentage — fourth best in CanWest — and a respectable 3.18 goals against average. Considering he plays on a team that gives up numerous high-danger scoring chances every game, Hawryluk’s stats shine.
In the second game, being a matinee, the Bisons opted to start Kolby Thornton, as Hawryluk no doubt deserved some much-needed rest. And like his fellow netminder, Thornton played exceptionally.
He surrendered one goal in the first and another in the second frame. However, he locked down the net in the third period, allowing his Bisons teammates to capture the lead.
Trailing 2-1 early in the third period, Thiessen netted his second power-play goal of the weekend, knotting the game up at two goals apiece.
Roughly ten minutes later, the timely Thiessen struck again, firing home a shot past the Trinity Western goaltender to give the herd a 3-2 lead, which it clung to in the dying moments of the game.
With its goalie pulled, the TWU Spartans hounded the Bisons in its own end, scourging the team’s bending defence with relentless pressure.
Finishing the game with 34 saves on 36 shots, Thornton was mobbed by his teammates after time expired.
In what was a stellar weekend for Bison goaltending — combining for 85 saves on 88 shots — this past weekend’s sweep of the Spartans also marked the first win streak the Bisons’ men’s hockey team has had this season.
The herd is now 4-20 on the season, mired in eighth place and eight points out of a playoff position with only four games remaining. As only the top six teams in CanWest qualify for the playoffs, the herd would need to win out and the team in sixth place would need to lose all its games for it to have a chance of making the playoffs.
Jonny Hooker currently leads the herd in scoring with 20 points in 24 games. He is trailed by defenseman Chase Hartje, who has chipped in 15 points from the back end, including 13 assists.
After Thiessen’s three-goal outburst this past weekend, he now has four goals and nine points on the season.
Manitoba’s leading rookie point scorer is Josh Paulhus, who has three goals and four points.
The Bisons men’s hockey team will look to keep its win streak going as it hits the ice again this weekend, Feb. 2 and 3, for a couple of home games against the MacEwan University Griffins.