The season may not have ended the way they wanted, with the Bisons being swept in two games by the University of Alberta Pandas, but Rachel Dyck, Lauryn Keen, and Venla Hovi still had cause to celebrate. The three women were among the five Bisons players named to the Canada West first and second all-star teams. Alexandra Anderson and Erica Rieder were also given the honour. The Manitoban sat down with Keen, Dyck, and Hovi and talked about the season.
“It’s a team game but to be recognized personally is always nice,” Bisons goaltender Dyck said. “Pretty humbling to see your hard work pay off throughout the season, and it’s a competitive conference so we know that if you do receive anything like this then it’s pretty legitimate.”
Dyck finished the year tied for first in both wins and shutouts amongst Canada West goalies, with 15 and five respectively. The Winnipeg Beach native had success across the board, putting up a 1.51 goals against average and .931 save percentage while playing the second-most games among goalies in the conference.
Keen’s 34 points outpaced all other skaters in Canada West, leading to her receiving a nod as the conference’s Most Outstanding Player. She recorded nine goals and 25 assists through 28 games this season, eclipsing her previous career totals.
“It just goes to show how hard work can pay off,” Canada West leading scorer Keen said. “When you work as a team it really brings out individual abilities as well, like working hard so other people can be noticed.”
Hovi says that the sheer number of Bisons selected is a testament to the quality of the team.
“You also have to look at it big picture,” the second-year winger said. “Taking five out of one team, that’s a big amount so it just says something about our team for sure.”
Hovi missed time this season due to injury, but that didn’t slow down the Finnish forward, who produced at a consistent clip on a line with Keen. Despite appearing in only 22 games this season, she finished tied for third in Canada West scoring, riding a 1.14 points per game average to 10 goals and 15 assists.
Apart from the disappointing end to the season, all three women felt pleased with the year and excited for the next. The Bisons finished the season with a 19-7-1-1 record, good enough for 56 points and a third place finish in the conference.
“I thought this was probably one of our best seasons,” Dyck said of the year as a whole. “We were just consistent the whole way through. We hit a few bumps, we had injuries, people going away on trips, that kind of thing but it didn’t really affect us.”
This sentiment was reflected by Keen. “Basing it on my last two years we’ve been the most consistent this year,” she said.
“My first year we had zero expectations so we were just playing to play, last year people weren’t too sure about us, then this year I think the expectations were so much higher and I think we did a good job meeting those expectations.”
Hovi said that the team has learned from last year, translating that into a successful season.
“I think the whole group just grew so much from last year,” she said. “Playing consistently this season definitely told us that we’ve grown as players and as athletes and people too.”
The same day the five Bisons were given the all-star nod, their coach was given his own praise. Bisons head coach Jon Rempel was named Canada West’s Coach of the Year for the 2016-17 season. Rempel has been coaching the team for the past 13 seasons, guiding them to two conference championships – in 2008-09 and 2010-11 – as well as five national championship appearances. This is the fourth time Rempel has been named coach of the year, with the last coming during the 2014-15 campaign.
“I have to say personally he was a little different this year,” Hovi said of her coach, prompting laughter from her teammates. “He was able to trust us more and give us more freedom and in that sense he showed us that he was really trusting of all of us and was maybe a little bit calmer.”
“I also liked his approach this year,” Keen said. “I wasn’t around when he was very very intense but there have been times where he’s pushed us very hard and it was nice to come in this year and know what he expects of us, but not having to force us to do it all the time.”
With all three women coming back for the next Bisons season, expectations may be even higher. Despite losing some key contributors, including Dyck’s backup Amanda Schubert, the three were all optimistic about the season ahead.
“Well I’m going to be in my fifth year so that’s scary,” Dyck said. “I think each year we’ve been able to do something pretty cool and I think next year is just going to get better. So I’m pretty excited about the possibility of what we can do.”
Keen added that she was also excited and is looking forward to the offseason ahead.
“Putting this year behind us and looking to next year, so it’s exciting knowing we have a summer to train and get better and take a break from the rink a bit but I’m excited to come back next year and take it all the way,” she said.
Hovi also pointed to the potential the team has to keep rolling next season.
“When you’re left with the emotions of being disappointed that we didn’t go any further I’m sure the whole team is very hungry to work even harder,” she said. “This season we recognized how important those little things are and next year will be our year.”
For now, the three are looking towards their summer break. However, that doesn’t mean they’ll be resting too much.
“Hopefully get a good job,” Dyck said of her summer plans with a laugh. “The off-season is always exciting. You get that opportunity to work on your game, train hard, and make yourself hungry for next season.”
Keen is looking to fine-tune her game during the off-season, but also looking forward to some time off.
“You get a whole lot of time to work on your game, the little aspects you can’t work on in-season,” she said. “Like personal strength for me and shooting. Just getting some time away from the rink also.”
Hovi is in a different boat, as she will be heading back home to Finland for some time with the national team, a well-deserved reward for a great year.