The U of M Bisons women’s hockey team begins its national title defence against the University of Calgary Dinos tonight.
Manitoba is coming into the season as the overwhelming favourite after a recent Canada West coaches’ poll put them as the No. 1 team in the country.
Meanwhile, Calgary continues to build and will try to improve on last year’s 7-18-1-2 record.
The biggest issue for the Dinos is scoring. Calgary did not have a player finish in the top 50 of Canada West scoring last year, as its leading scorer, Rachel Paul, finished 51st with seven points in 28 games.
Calgary’s saving grace will be the play of goaltender Kelsey Roberts. The third-year netminder had a 1.73 goals-against-average and .948 save percentage while appearing in all but two games for the Dinos last season.
Roberts’s numbers belie the fact the Dinos were one of the worst teams defensively last season. She faced more rubber than any goalie, leading Canada West with 834 saves and still finished tied for second in shutouts with six .
The herd will counter with a deep scoring threat and all-world goaltender.
Manitoba returns with its top three scorers from last season. Jordyn Zacharias led the club with 21 points — 12 goals and nine assists — followed closely by Alanna Sharman with 20 — three goals and 17 assists. Rounding out the top three was Lauryn Keen with seven goals and seven assists for 14 points.
The only issue will be the lack of Sharman. She is out indefinitely with a lower body injury. The current timetable sees her making a return in the New Year and the Bisons will experiment to fill that void.
The Bisons will take on the Dinos tonight at 7 p.m. CDT, at Wayne Fleming. Arrive early for the banner raising ceremony. Game two will be tomorrow at 2 p.m. CDT.