It was a rematch of the 2018 Canada West conference finals this weekend, as the No. 3 U of M Bisons hosted the No. 9 University of Saskatchewan Huskies. The two sides split the series as Manitoba took four of a possible six points on the weekend.
There was Canada West conference finals deja-vu at Wayne Fleming arena on Friday as the Bisons women’s hockey team beat the Huskies 2-1.
Karissa Kirkup had the game-winner in a slow and plodding affair. Saskatchewan goaltender Jessica Vance entered the game with only nine goals allowed through eight games, but could not hold off the Bisons.
“It’s always nice to have a big rivalry game and come out on top,” Kirkup said.
“I think our team came out really hard today and we’re going to be even better tomorrow.”
The Huskies struck first when Abby Shirley pounced on a loose puck in the crease. She banged home her second of the year for the 1-0 Huskies lead in the first period. The marker was also just the eighth road goal by scoring-starved Saskatchewan on the season.
Manitoba finally broke through in the third to tie the game at 1-1. On a Bisons powerplay, a shot was tipped in front and stopped by Vance. The puck was poked through Vance’s five-hole by Lauryn Keen for her fourth goal of the season.
“I think that was huge for us at that time,” Keen said.
“Our powerplay’s been working hard and we haven’t really been rewarded. So it was nice to finally get one there […] I think it just gave us some jump and got us back into it.”
The goal came against a Saskatchewan penalty kill operating at 97.6 per cent heading into Friday’s action.
Fans did not have to wait much longer for the herd to take the lead. Bisons keeper Lauren Taraschuk sent a bullet pass from the Bisons net to Kirkup alone in neutral ice. The senior put a laser shot short-side on Vance to give Manitoba a 2-1 lead with just over eight minutes to go.
“It was nice that [Taraschuk] had her head up there,” Kirkup said. “I think [Taraschuk] got her first Bisons point so that was awesome […] it was a nice pass.”
The Huskies had ample opportunities to tie the game late, but Taraschuk shut the door for the 2-1 win.
With the win, Manitoba remained perfect at home with seven wins at Wayne Fleming on the year.
“It wasn’t too long ago this barn actually wasn’t all that friendly to us,” Bisons interim head coach Sean Fisher said.
“This year for whatever reason we’re clicking here at home. We’ve tried to keep the routine and what-not as consistent as possible throughout these first seven home games.”
The home-ice winning streak came to an end Saturday as the Bisons dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to the Huskies.
Leah Bohlken had the OT-winner for the Huskies, scored following two minutes of constant pressure in the Bisons zone.
“We were just tired,” Fisher said. “Horses were tired, that’s kind of all there is to that.”
Kirkup picked up her second of the weekend in the first period to give Manitoba a 1-0 lead. Vance made the initial stop and a scramble ensued. The puck found its way to Kirkup, who fired it from an odd angle, beating Vance.
The Huskies came back with some bite, killed off a pair of penalties and evened the score in the first.
With Manitoba’s Natasha Kostenko in the box for tripping, Saskatchewan struck quickly. Emily Upgang tipped a point shot in the slot, through the wickets of Taraschuk to knot the game up at 1-1.
Kayla Kirwan scored in the second to give the Huskies a 2-1 lead.
The game-tying goal came in the third off the stick of Alexandra Anderson. The defender picked the puck up at the point and snaked her way through all five Huskies skaters. With Vance screened, Anderson went to the backhand and tied the game.
“I just kind of took advantage,” Anderson said. “They were all just sitting back, our forwards were all in front of their net […] then I just tried to sneak in and get it done.”
The score remained tied through regulation and Saskatchewan took the game in the second overtime. The Bisons were hemmed in the defensive zone for two straight minutes and Bohlken snuck the puck by Taraschuk for the 3-2 win.
The Bisons have a road weekend left before heading off to the holiday break, after which they may get a key contributor back. Alanna Sharman has been sidelined since suffering a preseason injury, and captain Erica Rieder said the forward’s return is close.
“She’s a huge part of our team,” Rieder said.
“She’s back skating on the ice for practices now, but just in the dressing room and just her presence on the ice is huge. So yeah it’s real exciting if she’s able to — and who knows when she’ll exactly be back — but yeah it’ll be really exciting to have her back.
The Bisons round out the first half of the schedule on the road next week on the road. The herd will visit the University of Calgary Dinos on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. Puckdrops are at 8 p.m. CST and 4 p.m. CST respectively.