Grading the 2019 performances for the University of Manitoba Bisons

Digest that turkey, sharpen your skates and tighten your cleats. A new year is here and 2020 is looking great for the U of M Bisons.

First we need to take a look back and see how the herd fared across some of the major sports. Some teams won big while others turned around rough starts to 2019, but all had performances of note.

For this we will consider the full 2019 calendar year, so in some cases you get a full season, while in others you get two partial seasons. All performances will be given a letter grade.

Football

Grade: A

Kicking things off is Bisons football, which had a strong showing in 2019.

The herd took a disappointing 2018 result — where it was bounced in the opening round of the Hardy Cup playoffs by the University of Calgary Dinos — and turned things around, losing in the first round to the Dinos.

The season result might have you wondering where the positivity is coming from, but the devil is in the details.

Instead of the difficult and at times frustrating performances of 2018, the 2019 football squad turned out supreme performances on a weekly basis.

A healthy Des Catellier and unbelievable performances from the receiving core plus all-world defensive play saw the Bisons flirting with national champion potential. This was on full display in the playoffs, where the herd pushed the eventual champion Dinos to the limit, but came up empty in a 47-46 loss.

This lost potential is the only thing keeping the Bisons football team from an A+ in 2019. If it could have gotten past the Dinos and made a run to nationals, it would have been the perfect season.

Alas, the herd only gets an A.

Soccer

Grade: A+

Speaking of a perfect season, the Bisons women’s soccer team had just that in 2019. Rounding out the two squads with full seasons in the calendar year, the soccer club too seemed poised for greatness.

The only difference is it was somewhat unexpected.

The herd has been growing every season under the leadership of head coach Vanessa Martinez Lagunas, and 2019 was more of a leap than a step forward. The emergence of rookies Stefanie Young and Jessica Tsai, Nicole Davis turning a major corner in her development and the addition of Dalima Chhibber all combined for a strong year.

It was more than anyone could have expected, with the only sting coming in the playoffs where the Bisons made it to the second round, losing 1-0 to the University of Calgary Dinos to end a great season.

Despite this loss, the herd vastly exceeded expectations and will head into 2020 a danger to dominate the conference.

Women’s hockey

Grade: B

It’s hard to grade a team poorly when it was coming off a national championship win, especially when it made a return to the national tournament like the Bisons did in 2019. It’s also hard to grade a young squad poorly when it struggles to come together in a highly competitive conference like Canada West — it’s just expected there will be growing pains.

With this, a compromise was struck.

A disappointing finish at the 2019 national championship is a major knock on the women’s hockey team, and the herd struggled this season when it seemed poised to become a dynasty like the University of Alberta Pandas.

The return of Jon Rempel and Amanda Schubert is definitely a plus for 2019, and the potential for future dominance is there, but the departure of Lauren Taraschuk leaves a bad taste in the mouth — and the Bisons without a bona fide number one goalie.

Very high peaks mixed with low, yet expected, valleys mean the herd gets a positive grade, albeit a poor one relative to expectations.

The Bisons will be back, and by the end of 2020 this substandard grade will be a blip. For now, they can improve on this B.

Men’s hockey

Grade: B+

To put it mildly, 2019 started in the most awful way possible for the Bisons men’s hockey team.

After snapping a 12-game losing skid to close 2018, the calendar year did not look promising for the U of M.

The team went 3-8-1 to close out the 2018-19 season, missed the playoffs and lost its leadership group — aside from Adam Henry and Sean Christensen. Then came the 2019-20 season.

Riley Lamb looks like a brick wall, a new defensive system crafted by Mike Sirant has cut down on high-danger scoring chances and the offence has started buzzing.

Aside from Henry there has been no Bisons player to truly claim scoring dominance, but Keaton Jameson seems close. With 16 points in 28 games during 2019, the second-year forward is trending toward a strong U Sports career.

While a middling season does not erase the pit of early 2019 — the Bisons sit just under .500 on the season in 2019-20 — like the women’s soccer team the club is outperforming expectations.

What seemed like another season outside the playoff picture has turned into one where the U of M is flirting with a home playoff series.

Only time will tell how far the team will go, but 2019 at least was better than expected for the herd. Now let’s hope the 2020 report card will include a playoff win, or maybe even a series win.