The University of Manitoba Bisons men’s hockey team played host to a pair of games this weekend against the Lethbridge Pronghorns. They dropped the first tilt by a score of 7-5 on Friday and fell 5-1 on Saturday.
Lethbridge extended their winning streak to five games with the pair of wins over the herd.
The Bisons started the game on Friday strong, opening up the scoring four minutes into the first when hot hand Shaq Merasty scored his third goal in as many games. Things went downhill for the herd pretty fast though, as the Pronghorns would explode for three goals in three minutes at the end of the period.
Lethbridge would tie the game up when forward Brandon Clowes came streaking in on a breakaway, and after a casual forehand, backhand roof the Pronghorns were back in business.
Thirty seconds later Lethbridge took the lead off a Justin Valentino power play marker. The situation got even worse when Mitchell Maxwell pulled off a filthy toe drag to get around Bison defenseman Adam Henry and then slid the puck through the legs of Bison goalie Justin Paulic to make it 3-1 for the visitors.
The Pronghorns kept the pressure up in the second. Valentino grabbed his second goal of the night a minute into the second frame off a nice one-timer from the top of the slot.
Two minutes later, Warren Callis picked up a rebound and cut the Pronghorns’ lead back to two. That didn’t last long, unfortunately, as Blake Orban finished a rebound off the boards to put Lethbridge back ahead by three.
Four minutes later, Joel Schreyer made a nice behind-the-back feed to Liam Bilton, who made no mistake and put it top corner.
Within seconds, Bisons captain Jordan DePape scooped up a rebound to bring the Bisons within one. The two teams would head into the third with the Bisons down 5-4.
Manitoba came out flying in the third period, dominating the early going and hitting the post a couple different times on strong chances.
The bouncy boards of Wayne Fleming Arena came to haunt the herd as Cassidy Mappin capitalized on a loose puck that ricocheted to put Lethbridge up 6-4.
Twenty-four seconds later, Pronghorn centre Dalton Sward came streaking in on a breakaway and fired it up over Paulic’s shoulder to put the game to rest.
Merasty would add a goal late in the third on a power play but it wasn’t enough.
Head coach Mike Sirant talked post-game about his team’s effort on Friday.
“We scored enough goals to win, we had enough chances to win, but we were far too casual defensively,” he said. “We win as a team, we lose as a team, and you can’t expect to be successful when you’re giving up 40 shots in your home rink.”
Sirant was hopeful ahead of Saturday’s rematch, saying that the herd couldn’t think about the loss too much.
“We’ve got a short turnaround, so we can’t dwell on this. We’ve got to be mentally prepared to come back and try to salvage the weekend, which I think we will.”
The rematch between Manitoba and Lethbridge was a chance for the Bisons to redeem themselves after Friday’s poor showing. The Pronghorns were eager to continue the success they had offensively on Friday, however.
The visitors opened up the scoring two minutes into the game off the stick of Dustin Fostvelt, who put one away on the rush. At around the midway mark of the first, Lethbridge capitalized on a too many men penalty from the Bisons and took a two-goal lead.
DePape had an opportunity to cut the lead in half minutes later, but was stymied on a breakaway chance. The Pronghorns made the Bisons pay as Ryon Moser came barreling in on a two-on-one and slid the puck past Manitoba netminder Byron Spriggs.
Lethbridge would add to their lead before the period was up, as Robert Lindores one-timed a Fostvelt pass into the top of the net. The visitors went into the room with a four-goal lead, leaving the Bisons with a big hill to climb.
The second period saw back and forth action between the two teams.
DePape made a dent in the Pronghorns’ lead seven minutes into the period and the Bisons seemed to gain a little momentum. They pushed hard to get the second goal and had many chances to no avail. Penalties hurt the flow of their game and the Pronghorns maintained their lead.
With 45 seconds remaining in the frame, Valentino was sprung on a breakaway and backhanded a shot through the wickets of Spriggs. Once again, the Bisons found themselves down by four at the intermission.
A lackluster third period saw no goals scored as Manitoba struggled to form any type of comeback. The Pronghorns shut it down defensively and saw out the win.
The Bisons allowed a combined seven first-period goals on the weekend, which landed them in a tough hole.
Sirant discussed the team’s tough start in both matchups post-game.
“It’s tough when you give up four goals like that in the first,” he said. “We had a tough time defending the rush, a lot of those goals were scored on the rush.”
Defensively, the Bisons were a nightmare this weekend as sloppy plays in their own zone, turnovers, and an inability to defend adequately in the slot cost them. Allowing 12 goals in two games at home was not something Sirant was too happy about.
“Certainly not the weekend we were hoping for. You have to give Lethbridge credit, they played well,” Sirant said.
“For whatever reason we were not mentally prepared for [Friday] and we gave Lethbridge a lot of confidence for [Saturday], which makes it harder to take that confidence away with the tone that was set on Friday.”
Manitoba stays at home next weekend, hosting the Saskatchewan Huskies in a pair of games. The Huskies are sitting atop the Canada West and riding a four-game win streak. The Bisons will hope to end the Huskies’ momentum and snap their two-game losing streak.