Heading into this past weekend’s action, the Manitoba Bison men’s hockey team had lost in the semifinals each of the past three years, and were on a mission to change their fate this year. Their opponent, the fourth-ranked Calgary Dinos, had not lost to Manitoba all season, but the Bisons gave the home team everything they had in a three-game slugfest. The Dinos ultimately eliminated Manitoba in a classic playoff matchup.
Calgary never trailed in the series, yet Manitoba still took two of three games to overtime, making for an exciting finish. Despite playing with relentless passion, the Bisons fell just short, losing the series 2-1.
Calgary potted goals in bunches during game one on Friday night, going a perfect two-for-two on the power play, and orchestrating a dominant 5-1 victory.
Calgary scored early and often in the first period, registering 17 shots and three goals in the first 10 minutes. Giffen Nyren was first to put Calgary on the board on a controversial call at 6:16; it appeared he had pushed the puck in with his knee, but the goal was confirmed after a brief discussion amongst the officials.
The Dinos built on their momentum less than 20 seconds later, as Davis Vandane made it 2-0 with a huge slapper from the point. Walker Wintoneak chipped in on the power play at 9:46, deflecting a Nyren shot into the back of the net.
Manitoba attempted to seize the momentum in the second frame. The Bisons outshot Calgary 10-6 in the period as the Dinos committed three minor penalties, with a fourth extended from the opening 20 minutes. This forced the typically offensive-minded team to play on their toes and stay in the defensive zone throughout.
The Bisons eventually took advantage, scoring on their second opportunity with the power play at 6:47. Rookie defenceman Luke Paulsen notched his first career playoff goal, going five-hole on Jacob DeSerres.
Needing a comeback, Manitoba fell flat in the third after generating a number of chances in the second period. Calgary tallied two more goals, despite registering only seven shots in the final frame.
Facing elimination in game two, the Bisons showed off their resiliency as they pulled out a 3-2 overtime win.
Calgary took the lead just under two minutes into the game, as Vandane blasted a shot from an odd angle that got by a screened Joe Caligiuri. The goal was Vandane’s second of the series, a bit of a surprise considering he’d scored just once through the regular season.
Just like game one, the Dinos did a good job limiting Manitoba’s chances in the first 20 minutes. Kris Lazaruk made his first start of the series and remained fairly comfortable throughout the period, facing just five shots.
The defensive battle continued in the second period, with both sides dumping the puck and not generating many chances throughout the first 15 minutes. Manitoba scored the tying goal at 10:41 on an innocent-looking shot from Paulsen that managed to slip past Lazaruk.
The momentum swung back to Calgary in the third, as Darren Bestland received a 10-minute misconduct penalty for a hit to the head. Veteran Cory Pritz made sure to capitalize, going end to end on the power play and beating Caligiuri at 2:43 to re-establish a one-goal lead for Calgary.
The Dinos continued to apply pressure after regaining momentum, and had a few chances to put this one away. However, Caligiuri remained calm in net.
Manitoba stayed patient and was rewarded just under halfway through the final frame. After a Calgary shot ripped all the way around the boards, Dylan Kelly lit the lamp on a tremendous pass in tight from Luke Cain. His goal at 9:31 was the first by a forward all series for the Bisons. Both sides traded chances late, but neither goalie could be beat, sending this one into overtime.
Another young star stepped up in overtime for the Bisons as Jordan DePape, who was third in rookie scoring, ended things at 13:05. His goal forced a deciding game three the following evening.
The deciding game on Sunday went to overtime yet again, this time with a disappointing result, as the Dinos booked their ticket to the Canada West final with a 2-1 win.
The momentum was in Calgary’s hands up until the six-minute mark, when a controversial hit from Kelly turned the tides in the visitors’ favour.
The scrappy forward smashed Calgary’s Nyren into the boards so hard that a pane of glass behind the Bison net broke all over the ice. Thankfully, both players emerged unscathed. The pause in action sent Calgary into a funk for the remainder of the period, and Manitoba capitalized. Brendan Rowinski cleaned up a loose puck in front at 15:15, evening the score after one.
Penalties prevented either side from getting much going in the second. A total of five were committed overall. The Dinos generated quality chances, but were halted by the glove of Caligiuri. Manitoba’s back end also proved their worth: led by Bestland and Brock Sutherland, the Bisons fearlessly blocked a number of Calgary shots.
For the third time in six games during the playoffs, Manitoba headed to overtime. Both sides played tentatively, careful not to make a mistake that cost their team.
The extra session featured back-and-forth action, with a few heart-stopping opportunities at both ends of the ice. Calgary was able to exact a measure of revenge from Saturday’s overtime loss, ending the Bisons’ season at 5:41 on a quick shot from Alex Dzielski.
With the win, Calgary now moves on to play their provincial rivals, the Alberta Golden Bears, in the Canada West Championship.