The University of Manitoba Bison men’s hockey team was swept at home by the Mount Royal University Cougars in the Canada West quarter finals this weekend.
The third seeded Bisons battled, but were stymied by a suffocating Cougars defence and were swept aside in two straight games.
Game one of the best-of-three series was heated. Both sides traded goals, hits, and barbs throughout the game, with the Cougars coming away with a 3-2 win and 1-0 series lead.
Bison forward Zach Franko scored early after taking a backhand pass from behind the net and ripping a shot top corner on Cam Lanigan. Two minutes later, Cougar defenceman Jesse Lees erased the lead by sidestepping a check and beating Byron Spriggs to end the period 1-1.
The deadlock remained through the second, and in the final frame it was the visitors getting out in front. Jamal Watson snapped home a one-timer from Chris Gerrie in the high-slot to give Mount Royal a 2-1 lead.
The Bisons came back five minutes later to bring themselves even. Nick Zajac sent a cross-ice pass through a Cougars defender and right onto the tape of Liam Bilton as the two came in on the rush. Bilton snapped a wrister from the half-wall, beating Lanigan top-corner for the second time on the night, knotting the game 2-2.
Just as fans were ramping down, expecting overtime, the Cougars stunned the home side off a defensive breakdown. With 43 seconds on the clock, Mitch Lipon slid the puck to Mount Royal captain Jamie King as he was crashing the net. King was left all alone and ripped one short-side on Spriggs to lift the underdog Cougars to a 3-2 win.
“We need to be better tomorrow,” said Bison head coach Mike Sirant.
“We showed some resiliency and found a way to tie it up late in the game, but to give up a goal that late in the game, leave a guy wide open, well obviously we have to be better.”
Sirant noted it was simply a missed assignment which led to the game-winning chance.
“It happened quickly but we missed our coverage in front of the net and left a guy open and you know he made a good shot,” he said.
The Bisons looked to exact revenge in game two and force a deciding game on Sunday. The two sides battled in a fiery and penalty-filled game, and the Cougars came away with a 5-3 win to complete the sweep.
Despite an early penalty, it was the Cougars getting ahead first on the penalty kill. King and Josh Bly broke into the Bisons zone. King sent a feed to Bly charging into the slot, and he was able to redirect the puck just under the crossbar.
The home side had a great chance to tie things a few minutes later, but the Cougars goaltender was up to the challenge. Lanigan made an awkward stop, lost the puck and went down onto his stomach. The puck slid to the slot and was turned back on goal, but Lanigan got just enough of it with his glove to preserve the lead.
The visitors continued to pour it on during the second period. Goals from Tanner Olstad and Watson gave the Cougars a 3-0 lead, then when Austin Adamson scored to make it 4-0 Mount Royal, tensions boiled over.
Following the goal – on a delayed penalty – Bison defenceman Adam Henry and Watson came together, exchanging a few punches. Watson lost his helmet in the scrum and both earned five minute majors.
The scrum seemed to bring the Bisons to life, as Justin Augert tucked a backhander neatly under the bar with seconds left on the clock in the second. Then in the third, Bison captain Brett Stovin unleashed a blast from the point, demolishing Lanigan’s water bottle. Stovin banged home a loose puck to get Manitoba within one moments later.
“Brett has been an amazing captain for us all year, and the things he’s done for this hockey team, and that’s just an example of him stepping up and making a difference,” Sirant said.
“He just makes a difference for this hockey program, both on and off the ice. We just ran out of time.”
The late flurry was not enough, however, as Watson added his second of the game on an empty net, giving Mount Royal the 5-3 win and series sweep.
The loss brings an end to a great season for the Bisons. The program finished third in a deep Canada West, while being ranked nationally during the year.
“This one stings,” Sirant said.
“This will sting for a while. We had a totally different performance tonight compared to last night. I thought from start to finish we played hard, our guys competed hard from start to finish tonight, even being down 4-0, did not quit, and we created a lot of chances.”