To say the University of Manitoba Bison men’s hockey team had an up-and-down first half is to sell the team’s rocky road to Christmas short.
The first half was filled with the highest of highs (beating the Saskatchewan Huskies, the second-ranked team in the country at the time, by a 5-2 count at Wayne Fleming Arena) and the lowest of lows (losing all four games to the Mount Royal Cougars for the second straight year).
Often unpredictable, at times vexing, but never boring, the Bisons are a team hunting an identity. They’ve had to sift through the dark waters of injuries, illnesses, losing streaks, and lineup changes in search of it.
So what is the identity of the 2016-17 Bison men’s hockey team? The team will tell you they are a fast, aggressive, up-tempo team with depth and physicality. They’ll tell you their record, a pedestrian 6-9-1 through 16 games, doesn’t show the kind of team they are. Our last look at them on home ice, a weekend in which they took three of a possible four points from conference powerhouse Saskatchewan, would seem to vindicate that statement.
One of the major obstacles for the Bisons, however, was inconsistency. You never quite knew which Bison team was going to show up on any given night, and at times that could be taken literally. They have one of the biggest rosters in Canada West, and the lineup changes for them came on a nightly basis.
Of course not all of their lineup changes have been voluntary. The injury bug didn’t just bite the Bisons, it sank its teeth in to the bone and hung on like a tick. Taking everyone from captain and leading scorer Jordan DePape to rookie scoring leader Remi Laurencelle out of the lineup at various points in the first half.
While the team says they won’t let injuries be an excuse, it will no doubt be nice to have the break to get healthy, and await reinforcements in the form of defenseman Blake Heinrich.
The Bisons will need all the reinforcements they can get, because back-to-back losses to Mount Royal have them sitting in sixth place, six points back of Lethbridge. Eight points back of Mount Royal for the final home playoff spot, and – most worrying of all – just two points up on UBC for the final playoff spot in the Canada West Conference.
When the second half begins, this Bisons team will need to be healthy and ready to grind. The last 12 games of the season will be the hardest fought yet as the playoffs near. If the Bisons want to get into any playoff action this year, they’ve got their work cut out for them.