CALL it a tale of two Bisons: When the gates to the CIS hockey season opened last weekend, one Bison squad rammed forward while the other one floundered.
In Alberta, the women's team got off to a solid start in their tight division, splitting a two-game road series against the University of Alberta Pandas. But at home in Winnipeg, the men's squad crashed in their home opener, losing 5-0 to Alberta on Friday night. They lost the next two as well, a second 4-0 fall to Alberta on Saturday and a 3-0 blank against the University of North Dakota on Sunday.
But it was that first one that really stung, especially in front of a hyped-up crowd out to honour Wayne Fleming, the former Bisons, Team Canada and NHL coach who died earlier this year. The U of M hockey arena now bears his name. "Probably, I'll be honest, one of the most humiliating defeats I can recall in a long time," Bisons men's hockey coach Mike Sirant said at a press conference on Monday.
"I almost feel like we owe an apology to the people who came out for that game... we don't want to accept losing, but at this point right now, we gotta look at some of the positive things we saw Saturday, and then on Sunday against North Dakota that we can build off of."
As the score line showed, what the Bison men need the most is scoring. The bulk of its top guns moved on last year, and Sirant said the focus for the team has now switched to scoring more by committee. On that end, the coach said he saw improvements after Friday as the team generated more chances. "It'll come," he said. "It's just a matter of making our own breaks, and getting some in the net, and building our confidence in that department."
Now, coaches for both teams will look to their veterans to help get on a winning narrative. On Monday, both Bisons squads retained last year's captains: forward Amy Lee for the women, defenceman Dane Crowley for the men. "I have confidence in our guys that we can find a way to score," said Crowley, a fifth-year blue-liner. "If we put one or two on the board, I feel we should be responsible as a team to holding them to less than that."
On the women's side, that veteran leadership will help make the Bisons tougher to play against this year, coach Jon Rempel said. But there's also the fact he recruited to make his team grittier this year, as the physicality of the women's game continues to ramp up; that may already have paid dividends, as Alberta had swept the Bisons in the last two opening weekends.
Weekly nods for Herders
MEANWHILE, two Bisons athletes were heralded on Monday for their achievements in the previous week. The female athlete of the week honour went to fifth-year hockey forward Brenley Anderson, who brought big pressure for the Bisons over the weekend, including scoring the game-winner in a 1-0 win over Alberta Saturday. She also notched four shots on net in a 5-1 loss to Alberta the night before.
Golfer Scott Mazur was named the male Bisons athlete of the week after the team wrapped up the fall season by winning the Twin Cities Classic tournament in Minnesota. Mazur finished tied for second, only four strokes off the top spot, to lead the Bisons to the team victory. He shot a 68 in the second round, which was four under par and tied for the low round on the course.