With playoffs out of reach, the U of M Bisons women’s hockey team looked to make a statement in its season finale against the University of Alberta Pandas.
Consider the statement made, as the herd split the final weekend to close the season at 10-17-1.
Kate Gregoire is here, and she’s going to fill nets in Canada West.
The rookie continued a torrid second-half scoring pace Friday, picking up her seventh and eighth goals of the season. The goals gave her six in her past six games and pushed her into sole possession of the goal-scoring lead for Manitoba.
“There is some growth stuff that has to happen — that clearly has happened, kid can score goals,” Bisons head coach Jon Rempel said.
“We knew that when she got here.”
She opened the scoring early, as Jordyn Zacharias fed the puck through a crowd to Gregoire standing just outside the blue paint. The rookie picked up the pass, turned and stuffed the puck through the wickets on Halle Oswald to give the Bisons a 1-0 lead just over three minutes into the game.
The Bisons held the lead until the second, where Kennedy Ganser pulled the Pandas even on the power play.
Autumn MacDougall sent the puck through the slot and Ganser got a quick shot away. Erin Fargey stretched out to make the save but couldn’t get a piece of the puck as it sailed by and the game was tied 1-1.
On the next play Chelsea Dearsley came in on Fargey and gave the Bisons netminder a whack. Fargey answered with a shove of her own. The exchange is the latest in the Alberta-born goalie’s increased willingness to defend her crease by force.
“I really don’t like people in my crease, that’s the end of it,” Fargey said.
“I like to be at the top of the blue paint, I feel like I’m able to track pucks better, I’m able to make my saves, so when people are in there I’m going to push.
“I get called feisty a lot for it, but it is what it is.”
The game remained tied heading into the third, where Zacharias and Gregoire combined again to regain the lead.
The two broke into the Pandas zone on a 2-on-1, and Zacharias flipped the puck to Gregoire with speed. Oswald slid across but Gregoire ripped the shot below her arm to get Manitoba back in front at 2-1.
“When you have a young team, you have to wait until some of them are ready to do certain things and can feel comfortable,” Rempel said.
“At the beginning of the year before training camp even started I had [Gregoire] penciled with [Zacharias] but it was never quite the right time to make the move. And when I made the move it was the right time.”
Zacharias potted an empty-netter, and despite a late goal by Ganser, the Bisons held on to shock the first-place Pandas 3-2.
It was an emotional game Saturday, as the Bisons honoured a pair of graduating players before puck drop.
Fans inside Wayne Fleming Arena were treated to a pair of touching video tributes. One for Zacharias and the other for Amanda Schubert, as both will graduate at season’s end.
“It’s nice to relive a little bit from the past and hear such kind words from my former teammates,” Zacharias said.
“It was tough but it was good to watch.”
Schubert was similarly emotional about the tributes. Hers featured reflections from her long-time goaltending partner Rachel Dyck, and roommate Alana Serhan.
“It was great, like those are all my best friends that I played with and Serhan — I still live with her and she’s one of my best friends and she’ll be my best friend for probably ever,” she said.
“And it just goes to show that the Bisons program isn’t about hockey, it’s about the friendships and it’s about the culture of working hard and being the best that you can be […] and it was great to hear them say those things.”
With tributes finished, there was still a game to play, and unlike Friday, Alberta came out firing.
Abby Benning opened the scoring, pouncing on a loose puck in the slot and firing in off the foot of Schubert. Then seconds later, Madison Willan broke free in the high slot and got a piece of a Cayle Dillon shot, tipping it by Schubert to give the Pandas a quick 2-0 lead in the first.
Regan Wright and MacDougall added a pair of shorthanded goals to give Alberta the 4-0 win.
Post-game, both Schubert and Zacharias reflected on their careers. For the Bisons fifth-year netminder, the chance to return home to Manitoba was everything she could have hoped for.
“If you can be a good person it doesn’t really matter how you play as a hockey player,” Schubert said.
“It’s great that I can also be a half decent hockey player too […] I just loved being in the dressing room and that’s what I missed most.
“I went to Finland and I played hockey and it was great, but […] I missed the dressing room — I missed the game too but it’s more the atmosphere of the players and how that part goes. That’s what I love about hockey so much.”