A four-point weekend was something the Bison men’s hockey team had yet to achieve in conference play this season. The monkey was finally blasted off their collective backs with their 4-1 and 6-1 wins over the visiting Regina Cougars this past weekend.
Friday’s game saw the scoring open at the 7:47 mark of the first frame, as Kyle Howarth blasted one in on the rush. Towards the end of the second period, Regina’s Cody Esposito found himself alone for a breakaway opportunity, but Bison goaltender Steve Christie flashed the leather, keeping the home team up by one going into the third.
The Bisons lead was lost 54 seconds into the final frame, as Regina’s Lucas Isley made the ninth shot on Christie count, tying the game at 1-1. Regina then made three successive trips to the penalty box, but nothing was decided on the man advantage for Manitoba.
Finally, at 16:11 of the third, Bisons forward Blair MacAuley’s shot from the left circle found its way past Regina’s A.J. Wiffen, putting the home team up 2-1. The momentum continued as, nearly two minutes later, the Bisons went up 3-1 when Greg Beller took a neat feed from MacAuley and popped in the insurance marker. In desperation, the Cougars pulled their goalie with a minute left in the game, but Manitoba’s Jared Walker caught a clearing attempt and scored the empty net goal.
In their first game, the Bisons outshot the Cougars by a margin of 38-16.
“[MacAuley’s goal] kind of took the wind out of our sails,” said Cougar’s goaltender Wiffen about the loss.
MacAuley agreed, “I think we had all the momentum, pretty much the whole game.”
Saturday’s contest saw an increase in intensity, as both teams jockeyed to establish their physical presence. The scoring was opened by a rather sloppy play on goaltender Wiffen’s part, as he went behind the net to clear the puck. Beller beat him to the puck and passed it to linemate MacAuley who made no mistake and shot it in the wide open cage at 10:40 of the first period. Just over two minutes later Beller would get his second goal of the weekend, putting Manitoba up 2-0.
The Bisons rampage continued in the second as alternate captain Nolan Waker made a nifty deflection at the 8:57 point. Midway through the period it looked as though Beller had his second of the game, as he shot in the puck just before making a Cirque de Soleil worthy tumble over the startled Wiffen, knocking the goaltender’s helmet off. The referee waived the goal, however, sending Beller off for goaltender interference.
A few seconds later, a similar play ensued at the other end of the ice and the Cougar’s Craig Cuthbert was also sent to off to cool his heels for the same misdemeanor. The Cougars gained some momentum and, despite coming up empty on the power-play, finally light up the lamp as Cuthbert put one in past Christie’s left side at 12:11.
The goal was enough to spur the Bisons to respond with an offensive outburst of their own. Manitoba’s Kyle Howarth dialed long distance from the top of the left circle and bent the twine at 14:32, closing out the second period scoring.
The third period saw the Cougars frustration boil over as they made a couple more trips to the penalty box. On the second of these penalties, Bisons defenceman Travis Mealy fired a point shot that sailed past Wiffen’s shoulder and into the cage at 7:23. The scoring was rounded out at the 12:50 mark of the third period, when rookie Wes Pawluk scored his first goal of the season, thanks in large part to some hard work by Bison enforcer Chris Benias setting up the play.
“I think we were just too loose in some areas,” Regina alternate captain Craig Cuthbert said about the effort. “Too many turnovers down low and it cost, especially with a team [like the Bisons] that are good on the transition; they’ll put it in the back of the net.”
“I thought we played pretty well. We stuck to our systems,” said Bisons forward Benias. “Coach [Mike Sirant] put out a game plan for us, and I thought we did really well.”
STREAKERS: Blair MacAuley is currently on an eight-game point scoring streak after the weekend action. Nipping at his heels is Bisons captain Mike Hellyer, whose two assists on the weekend kept his point streak alive at four games.
NEXT ACTION: Nov. 12-13 will see the Bisons host the 5-4 Calgary Dino’s in a battle for second place in Canada West. The Bisons are currently tied with the Dinos for that second spot, with two games in hand. The puck drops at 7 p.m. both nights.