Following their lopsided wins Friday night, the University of Manitoba Bisons and Concordia University Stingers will collide Saturday night for a berth in the U SPORTS National Championship final.
The two sides look relatively even across the board in terms of offence. There was only a one-goal difference between the two clubs throughout the regular season – 65 for Manitoba and 64 for Concordia – but the Stingers take the edge in goals per game – 3.20 to 2.32.
Both teams have proven they can score in bunches. Concordia has scored three or more goals 14 times in the regular season – including a 7-0 pounding of Guelph and a 7-2 drubbing of Carleton – while the Bisons have done so 12 times – highlighted by a 6-0 win over Calgary but not including their 5-2 win over Saskatchewan to win the Catherwood Cup.
For the Bisons, the offensive key will be their speed and puck control. This was shown in their quarterfinal victory over Queen’s where Alanna Sharman, Lauryn Keen, Erica Rieder, and Venla Hovi all showed off their elite puck control abilities. Sharman especially appears to be hitting a hot streak at the perfect time, scoring and adding an assist in the quarters after posting a career low of three goals, despite leading the herd with 17 helpers.
For Concordia the key will be to give Audrey Belzile and Lidia Fillion as much room as possible to work. Belzile led the Stingers with 11 goals while Fillion was close behind with 10. The team should also try and get their depth players involved. All four lines for the Bisons were rolling on Friday, especially their fourth line, which gained a boost from the return of Mekaela Fisher. Getting those contributions will be key to matching Manitoba.
Defence: Bisons with the advantage
On the defensive side of the puck, Manitoba appears to have the edge. Concordia was not tested much by the St. Francis-Xavier defenders in their opening match, but the Bisons were able to flex their muscle against the Gaels.
Caitlyn Fyten came up huge for the Bisons on multiple occasions, getting her stick in passing lanes or checking opponents’ sticks. She was all over any Gaels attacker coming her way. That, combined with strong play by Jenai Buchanan and the puck moving skills of Rieder, and it will be tough for Concordia to compete.
The top-heavy nature of the Stingers may also come back to haunt them. There were 18 Bisons who contributed a goal this season, compared to 13 for Concordia, with almost a third of all Concordia’s goals coming from their two top scorers. Look for Hovi to be connected with either Belzile or Fillion at the hip, using her elite speed and stick skills to neutralize the threat.
X-Factor: One goal games
Whether the game becomes a track meet, or goalies steal the show, this game will likely be decided by a single tally. Bison rookie goalie Lauren Taraschuk has looked solid in net recently that we could see Manitoba blowout Concordia.
This season Concordia went 5-4 in one-goal games while the Bisons went 14-2 in a tighter Canada West conference. This means bad things for the Stingers if the Bisons can keep pace. They are not used to giving up a lot, and do not look comfortable in tight games, while the Bisons seem to thrive off the pressure.
When it comes down to the final buzzer, if there is one goal separating these teams, it is most likely going to be the Bisons on top. They play with a deeper conference against tough opponents and supreme goaltenders every night, and have shown that they can scratch and claw their way to victory.
The Bisons and Stingers go head-to-head tonight at 6 p.m. in London, Ont. Games can be streamed live on 101.5 UMFM.