Tumultuous men’s hockey season wraps up

Bisons swept by Huskies in final series of campaign

Colton Veloso (17) breaks into the Huskies zone during a game on Feb. 9, 2019.

Test

A difficult and disappointing season came to an end on the weekend, as the U of M Bisons men’s hockey team was swept by the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.

Friday

Veteran players from the Bisons men’s hockey team were centre stage in a 3-2 loss to the Huskies Friday. In what will be their final series wearing the brown and gold, Brett Stovin and Zack Franko each scored a goal while Dasan Sydora turned away 39 of 42 Saskatchewan shots in the loss.

“You could see that these guys, they really want to finish the season the right way,” Bisons head coach Mike Sirant said.

“There’s still lots to play for, of course — there’s pride in our program, there’s the opportunity to play the spoiler […] — so there’s lots of motivation for us to go out and perform tonight, and also to respect the game.”

Sirant went with backup Sydora over long-time starter Byron Spriggs in the game, electing to give the Red Deer-born goalie one final start.

“Dasan has been an outstanding Bison for four years now,” Sirant said.

“He’s a consummate teammate. He certainly deserved the opportunity to start one of these games, but we also felt confident that he can perform and get the job done for us.”

Stovin was the first to step up for his team, drawing the herd even after Collin Shirley got the Huskies ahead 1-0 early in the opening frame.

The Bisons entered the Saskatchewan zone on an odd-man rush and a pass from Nick Zajac thread the needle toward a streaking Stovin. He picked up the pass and roofed the puck on Taran Kozun, sending his water bottle flying and tying the game 1-1.

“The guys obviously still want to win,” Stovin said.

“Some of the older guys, you know, it’s our last weekend playing together, so we’re just going to come out and act like it’s any game […] You still want to win but you kind of relish it as a group, the older guys.

“You know a goal’s a goal. All that matters is that we were still in the game at that point.”

Down another goal entering the second period, it was Franko’s turn to grab the spotlight.

A Huskies player snapped his stick on a point shot and Franko stole the puck, taking off down the ice. Franko beat his man, broke in on Kozun and snapped a wrister over his blocker to tie the game 2-2.

Franko made his return Friday after suffering an undisclosed injury against the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns two weeks ago.

“I mean it’s been far too long — I guess about a month,” Franko said.

“Sucks the way it happened, obviously wanted to help the guys make a push toward the playoffs. But, yeah, do whatever I can to help out the young guys for next year and try to get back healthy and feel good.”

Sam Ruopp scored with five minutes left in the game to make it 3-2 Huskies, and the herd could not make up the difference.

Saturday

It was a melancholy end to the season Saturday following a 3-0 defeat for the Bisons by the Saskatchewan Huskies.

Prior to the game, the Bisons honoured eight senior players. Captain Brett Stovin, alternate captains Sean Christensen and Zajac, forwards Brooks, Franko and Liam Bilton, and goaltenders Sydora and Spriggs will all be graduating this season.

Following the loss, Spriggs still wore a smile on his face as he reflected on his university career.

Joining the Bisons was “probably the best decision of my life to be honest with you,” he said.

“Just finished getting out of the room and thanking [everyone]. And you look back and I’ve got to thank [Bisons head coach] Mike [Sirant] for giving me the opportunity to play here.”

The Winnipeg-born netminder said he put future plans on the back-burner to focus on the season, but said he and his agent are going to explore options for professional play overseas.  Spriggs was tested often in the first period as the Huskies controlled the pace of play but only let one by. With extended pressure in the Bisons zone, Donovan Neuls broke free from coverage in the slot. Carter Folk found Neuls with a pass and he snapped a shot five-hole on Spriggs for the 1-0 Saskatchewan lead.

“Byron was again outstanding today,” Sirant said.

“He’s had an amazing career with the Bisons. He’s been so good for us and each year he’s improved and we’re going to miss him, along with all our graduating guys.”

Spriggs stopped 31 of 34 in the contest. The defensive woes continued for Manitoba in the second as Carson Stadnyk outpaced his defender and beat Spriggs plow-blocker to make it 2-0 Huskies. Parker Thomas scored in the third to put the final nail in Manitoba’s coffin.

“The effort was there,” Sirant said. “No question we competed hard, played a pretty good game.”

The loss brings a difficult season to a close for the herd. The team finished seventh in the conference at 6-20-2, a fall from a fourth-place finish a season ago.