With the Calgary Dinos enjoying a bye weekend, the fourth place Canada West Bison men’s hockey team was hoping to be able to pull ahead of their rivals in the standings. Unfortunately, the visiting UBC Thunderbirds didn’t receive that memo.
Friday’s action opened on a positive note for the Bisons, as Greg Beller netted a power-play goal at 8:07 of the first period. UBC replied, however, with an even-strength marker from Matthew Schneider at 16:18.
The visitors pulled ahead at the 4:21 mark of the second with a power-play marker from Justin McCrae, who added his second of the night only 37 seconds later, handcuffing Steve Christie and the rest of the Bison defenders on the rush. Manitoba seemed to regain a bit of a spark on a goal from newcomer Jordan Cyr’s even-strength goal at 13:22.
Although the Bisons seemed to hold off the floodgates for a bit in the third, outshooting the visitors in the period 13 to nine, the Thunderbirds sealed their two points, first with an even-strength marker at 13:33 off the stick of Ben Schmidt, then an empty net goal at 18:19 courtesy Jordan Inglis. The final score was 5-2 Thunderbirds.
“It was a whole group effort,” said goaltender Jordan White about his team’s victory. “We can’t say we predicted the outcome, but [ . . . ] we were very fortunate to come out ahead.”
“We have to win games this time of the year,” said Bison Jordan Cyr after the loss. “We have to come out with more of a will to win. We have the skill; right now it’s a matter of everyone coming to the rink and doing whatever it takes to win games.”
Saturday night saw a much more focused Bison team. Thanks to some undisciplined penalties by the Thunderbirds, Manitoba was treated to about six minutes of power-play time, of which they took full advantage. Kyle Howarth potted his first of two on the evening at 7:51 of the first period. The Bisons did eventually get a penalty of their own, and the Thunderbirds returned the favour, as Max Grassi put in the quick shot past Christie at 17:28. The Bisons had outshot the T-Birds 12 to six in the period.
At 4:22 of the second, Manitoba goaltender Christie was caught sprawling and UBC’s Brandon Campos put in the easy goal over the flattened netminder’s outstretched trapper, putting the visitors ahead by one. Nearly two minutes later, the Bisons responded with Howarth’s second goal of the night, zipping the puck in past T-Bird goalie Jordan White.
Early in the third period, captain Mike Hellyer made artistry out of a sneaky glove-side shot, which blasted its way past the stymied White, putting the home team up by one at 4:58. The Thunderbirds fought back, McCrae getting a fluke goal on the power play, deflecting off a fallen Bisons’ leg, sailing over Christie’s glove hand shoulder and in, tying things up at 13:51.
At 17:58 of the third, a vicious high stick to the face of Bisons captain Hellyer resulted in UBC’s McCrae earning a four minute penalty. The power play carried over into overtime and the momentum created by the power play led to Greg Beller making his low stick-hand floater sneak past goaltender White, at 2:27 of OT, giving the Bisons the thrilling 4-3 overtime victory.
Said Beller of his game winner, “Dane [Crowley] had the puck and I just yelled as loud as I could for the puck because all their guys had moved over to him and I was open for a bit. I was able to get a shot off and it just squeaked through [the goalie’s] pads.”
Once all the dust had settled from the weekend’s action, the Bisons ended up seated fourth place, tied for points with the third place Calgary Dinos, each team with 28 points. The Saskatchewan Huskies are in second place with 32 points, and the Alberta Golden Bears remain in first place with 35 points. Behind the Bisons, both Lethbridge and UBC have 25 points, so the playoff berths are very much up in the air.
“We needed four [points] but we’ll take whatever we can get,” said alternate captain Riley Dudar. “Going into Alberta is always tough but it’s always good games there. We always up our games [against Alberta].”
“We’re not happy with the weekend,” admitted Beller. “We’ve got Alberta next weekend, so that’s going to be a real test. It’s playoff time right now for us.”
Next week, the Bison men will be in Edmonton playing the Alberta Golden Bears. The last time these two teams met was Nov. 26-27, where the Bisons won the first game 4-2 and lost the second 3-2. Manitoba will wrap the regular season home schedule Feb. 25-26 against the second place University of Saskatchewan Huskies, both games starting at 7 p.m. at the Max Bell Arena.