There was no love lost as the U of M Bisons men’s hockey team locked horns with the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns on the weekend. The series was tough, physical and full of goals as both sides earned a win.
Manitoba opened the season, breaking in a revamped Wayne Fleming Arena in a big way with a 2-0 win Saturday over the Pronghorns.
A quick start was key for the herd in Saturday’s game, as both Bisons goals came within the first minute of their respective periods. Jeremey Leipsic opened the scoring 31 seconds into the second period, and Mitchell Dyck scored 53 seconds into the third.
Bisons head coach Mike Sirant said post-game that speed and preparation were big factors in this early success.
“We were ready,” he said.
“We were ready when the puck dropped and played fast.”
After a scoreless opening frame where the Bisons heavily outshot the visiting Pronghorns, Leipsic broke the game open in the second.
Sean Christensen circled the point and put a shot toward Taz Burman in the Lethbridge goal. Burman made the save but kicked the puck to a waiting Leipsic, who snuck a backhander below Burman’s leg and in for the 1-0 Manitoba lead.
Sirant was happy about Leipsic’s success, but the goal hammered home a desire to have the forward use his shot more often.
“He had two chances where coming to the bench he realized he should’ve taken those shots,” Sirant said.
“I think we can get even more offence from [Leipsic] once he starts recognizing that he needs to utilize his shot more, because he does have a real good shot.”
Leipsic agreed with his coach, noting he wants to pick up a shooter’s mentality moving forward.
“For as long I can remember I’ve been more of a passer,” he said.
“Just trying to get that shot first mentality, so I’m going to work on that moving forward too.”
Sirant also liked the sandpaper in Leipsic’s game Saturday, saying the smaller forward played “with some grit […] getting in, finishing checks which shows that he cares and he wants to win.”
Manitoba struck early again in the second, this time off the stick of Dyck. The second-year defender picked up the puck and had his initial shot stopped but put the second top corner on Burman to make it 2-0 Bisons.
Leipsic picked up an assist on the play giving him two points on the night.
From there the Bisons put Burman under siege, but the netminder held the fort, giving his team every chance to get back into the contest.
This effort was for naught, as even with an extended 6-on-4 late, the Pronghorns were unable to solve Riley Lamb and the Bisons snagged a 2-0 win in the home opener.
Lamb was solid and understated in his U Sports debut, turning aside 26 shots and picking up his first win and first shutout.
“Obviously it’s pretty good coming in,” he said, adding that winning the first game “is always crucial, and the guys played pretty good tonight, kept them to the outside so I was able to get the shutout.”
With one win in the books, the Bisons tried to double up Sunday in a matinee matchup with the Pronghorns. Manitoba’s opponent came out with fire, claiming a 5-4 win off a shorthanded marker.
“We talk about being resilient in the second game,” Sirant said of the loss.
“Because no team wants to get swept, so you know there’s going to be a strong pushback from Lethbridge because every team, every program has pride. They don’t want to be swept.”
Another early goal got things going Sunday, but this time it was the Pronghorns with the marker. Torrin White hopped on a loose puck and lifted it over Tyler Brown for the 1-0 Pronghorns lead 1:16 into the game.
It took just over a minute for the Bisons to respond as Ryan Carlson gained the Lethbridge zone and snuck a shot by Burman to tie things up at one.
Manitoba gained the lead later in the frame off the stick of Colton Veloso. A burst of speed got Veloso past the Pronghorns defence and he went forehand-backhand, sliding the puck five-hole on Burman for the 2-1 lead.
Owen Guenter tied the game 2-2 soon after.
Lethbridge appeared to take the lead late, as Brooks Maxwell gained a step on the Bisons defence, cut to the middle and drove to the net, putting the puck under Brown’s leg. The goal was waved off and the game was tied at the end of the first.
Michael Clarke and Jonah Wasylak traded goals to start the second before Adam Henry did it all by himself to give Manitoba a lead. Henry entered the zone, cut through the Pronghorns defence, shimmied right and tucked a backhander past a sprawling Burman for the 4-3 Bisons lead in the second.
Landon Gross scored late in the second frame to knot things up 4-4 heading into the final 20 minutes.
It did not take long for Lethbridge to pick up the win in the third, as Maxwell broke into the Bisons zone shorthanded and went backhand-shelf on Brown for the game winner.
“That’s a tough way to lose a game, giving up a shorthanded breakaway goal,” Sirant said.
“Special team’s got to make a difference — not that way.”
The next time Manitoba will see conference action is the weekend of Oct. 11 and 12 in Calgary against the Mount Royal University Cougars. Game one starts 8 p.m. CDT and game two at 4 p.m. CDT.