The stakes couldn’t have been any higher heading into this past weekend, as just one point separated the Manitoba Bisons and Regina Cougars in the Canada West standings. After being swept by Regina on the road earlier this season, the Bisons were looking for a measure of revenge on home ice.
Friday’s action was a fast-paced, non-stop slugfest, with the feel of a playoff matchup. After the dust had settled, Regina emerged with the 3-1 win, their goaltending stealing the show.
While neither team was able to find the back of the net in the first period, there was no lack of chances at either end. Bison forward Dylan Kelly merited the first chance of the game just over three minutes in as he was sprung on a partial breakaway, but Cougar goalie Andrew Hayes shut the door. Regina sprung to life and pressured Bison goalie Joe Caligiuri on multiple occasions, but neither team could break the scoreless tie.
The furious action carried on early on in the second. Lee Christianson received a great feed on the right wing, but was stopped in tight by a composed Hayes. Regina fed off the stellar play of their goalie again, and capitalized on a big rebound by Caligiuri. Troy Hunter cleaned up the garbage in front and hammered it into the open net for the lead. The Bisons carried the majority of quality chances through the rest of the second, but continued to be stymied by Hayes, who had 16 stops at that point in the game.
With just 2:03 remaining in the period, the Cougars added to their lead. After a furious forecheck, Ian McNulty jumped on a loose puck and slid it past Caligiuri. Regina took the 2-0 lead heading into the third.
The Cougars picked up where they left off in the third, making it 3-0 at just over six minutes in. Tyler Henry snuck out from behind the net and secured a wraparound behind Caligiuri. The Bisons were able to snap Hayes’ bid at a fourth shutout this season in the final minute, as Craig Scott’s weak backhand shot went off the Regina goalie’s stick and in. The goal came far too late, as Regina came away with the victory.
Hayes was flat-out brilliant in the first game of the weekend, stopping a whopping 41 shots in the win. While Regina’s goaltending was outstanding, head coach Mike Sirant felt there were other factors that led to the final score as well.
“It’s too easy to say that Hayes stole the game,” said Sirant. “Obviously he was a factor but we just weren’t good enough tonight.”
“At this point in the season we’ve gotta be at our best [ . . . ] it’s not acceptable to lose at home at this time of the year.”
The Bisons had plenty of scoring chances again on Saturday afternoon, but could not capitalize, suffering a devastating 3-2 double overtime loss.
The start of Saturday’s game played out very similarly to the night prior, with Manitoba outshooting Regina 10-5 and garnering a multitude of scoring chances. Unfortunately, the post was the Bisons’ enemy, ensuring a parallel score of 0-0.
Penalties dictated the second period, with all three goals attained on 5-on-3 advantages. Regina got on the board first at 11:50, when Mark Schneider slipped a wrister past Caligiuri. Just 18 seconds later, they added to their lead, as Ryan Dech deflected a slapshot through traffic.
Manitoba slowly reeled themselves back into the game at 14:08, as Jordan DePape was finally rewarded for his strong offensive play. He deflected a Luke Paulsen shot past Lucas Gore for his sixth of the season. Heading into the final 20 minutes, the Bisons trailed 2-1.
After giving up two goals on the penalty kill, the Bison penalty killers gained a measure of revenge at 7:06 in the third. Jesse Paradis netted his ninth of the year as he jumped on a rebound after the Bisons broke out on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush, while Jordan DePape sat in the penalty box for charging.The game slowed down after that, and headed to the extra session tied 2-2.
Manitoba owned the momentum in both overtime periods, outshooting Regina 11-2 overall. A costly turnover in the 3-on-3 double overtime period ultimately sealed their fate, however. John Sonntag put this one to rest.
With the pair of victories, Regina leapfrogged over Manitoba into fourth in the Canada West standings. They are ahead by two points with just two weeks to go in the regular season. The Bisons’ next action takes place in Lethbridge in a two-game weekend series. The first game is Friday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m.
photos by beibei lu