The playoffs are approaching and the U of M Bisons men’s hockey team will have to fight to stay in the mix after a tough weekend.
Playing host to the University of Regina Cougars for an important two-game series, the Bisons had a chance to clinch a playoff spot with two wins. Instead, the U of R picked up four points in a weekend sweep, leap-frogging the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds for the final playoff spot.
With the Bisons still sitting fifth in the standings, the sixth-place U of R is behind by just two points after the weekend.
The first of the back-to-back matchups between the teams was a back-and-forth contest. Goals were traded throughout the game until the Cougars came away with the 5-4 shootout win.
A fast-paced, playoff-hungry Bisons team came out to play right at the drop of the puck. Meanwhile, a U of R team desperate to make the post-season gave the herd everything it could handle.
The Bisons pressured the U of R throughout the first period but could not beat the Cougars netminder. This persistence paid off late as Adam Henry capitalized on his second opportunity of the game.
A Colton Veloso pass across the crease gave Henry a chance he could not pass up, as he sniped it short-side on Brandon Holtby to give the herd a 1-0 lead.
The Bisons added two more goals within the next two minutes to give themselves a 3-0 lead.
The first came from a two-on-one break with Jonah Wasylak and Josh Tripp. Wasylak fed Tripp and he made no mistake, roofing the puck on Holtby.
The U of M’s third of the period was a routine shot from Winnipeg-born Dylan Thiessen as he entered the Cougars zone. The floating wrister fooled the U of R netminder and sent the Bisons into the second period with a three-goal cushion.
Holtby woke from his first-period nap as he held the fort for his club early in the second.
His play sparked the Cougars bench, as the U of R got on the board halfway through the period with a squeaker that trickled through Bisons rookie goaltender Tyler Brown.
A little over two minutes later, Bryce Platt snapped one past Brown to cut the lead to one.
Bad then turned to worse for the U of M. Arthur Miller found the back of the net with just over a minute to go in the frame to tie the game 3-3 to end the second.
The Bisons did not seem to take the poor second-period performance well as the club came out hot to start the third.
After a penalty expired, Devon Skoleski jammed in the puck from the side of the net to give the herd a 4-3 lead.
Soon after it was the Cougars’ turn to get a power play and Tristan Frei snapped one from the point to knot the game up at 4-4.
The game remained tied through regulation, and in extra time Conner Chaulk became a villain in Wayne Fleming Arena. With 45 seconds to go in the second overtime period, Chaulk went to the box for cross-checking.
Despite furious pressure the Bisons could not find the back of the net, sending the game to a shootout. Both netminders stood tall, and after nine shooters were stopped Chaulk was tapped to go next.
He walked in, snapped a shot low blocker on Brown for the win and walked directly off the ice.
After a tough loss for the Bisons Friday night, Saturday provided no relief for the home crowd. The herd was outscored and outmatched in 6-3 loss.
The U of R started off early with a rebound goal by Tanner Nagel after a beautiful Riley Lamb save. Not done there, the U of M was caught flat-footed on the penalty kill and Miller raced along the boards and ripped it far side to give the Cougars a 2-0 lead.
The Cougars added a third marker from Chaulk and suddenly it was the U of M’s turn to be behind 3-0 going into the second.
The second period was little better, as Ty Barnstable and Tate Coughlin both scored to put the herd in a 5-0 hole through 40 minutes.
Things were not looking good for a tired Bisons team, and captain Henry arrived to give his team a spark.
Henry picked up the puck in the high slot and faked a shot causing a U of R defender to drop, taking himself out of the play. This left one man to beat and Henry made two nifty moves freezing the second defender before sniping it top corner to give the herd its first goal of the game.
Minutes after the goal, Skoleski added one of his own off a U of R turnover to turn it into a 5-2 game with just under half a period to play.
Nagel scored his second on an empty net and Ben Dalke scored late for the Bisons, but by then it was too late. The Bisons dropped the game 6-3.
Catch the Bisons at home next Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. CST and Feb. 8 at 2 p.m. CST. Both games will be against the first-place University of Alberta Golden Bears.