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Bisons need fab finish

Two more wins would lock up second-place finish in Canada West

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Two wins this weekend would give the Manitoba Bisons men's hockey team another shot at what they lost last year.

After finishing last season first in the Canada West conference with 20 wins, the University of Manitoba squad was shown the door after a 2-0 semifinal series loss to the Calgary Dinos. This year, the Bisons have responded so far with a 16-6-4 record and are poised to finish second in the conference.

A pair of wins over the Cougars in Regina this weekend in the final regular-season games would lock up second and punch the Bisons' ticket to host the best-of-three semifinal series.

"We have to do our job, go in and win both games, that way we control our own fate," said Bisons head coach Mike Sirant, noting the third-place Saskatchewan Huskies are meeting the Lethbridge Pronghorns in their final two regular-season games, also this weekend.

The Bisons need two wins to be sure they finish ahead of Saskatchewan, which is one point back and holds the tiebreaker should the two teams end up deadlocked in second.

Though Manitoba started this season with two losses to the No. 2-ranked Alberta Golden Bears and a split with No. 6 Saskatchewan, the Bisons won eight of their next 12 games before Christmas.

"The exact words I said to the team after the losses in Edmonton were 'What counts here is not how we start the season but how we finish it,' " Sirant said. "Our approach this year has been to get better each week. We just focus on the game before us. We don't go into a weekend talking about Saturday. Let's perform Friday and then focus on Saturday. Using that approach, I believe our improvement has been steady throughout the year."

Manitoba has seven wins in its last 10 games.

"It's an intense time of year and guys want to finish hard. We know if we can get a fast start against Regina, that's when we're at our best and give ourselves the best chance at success," said forward James Henry, in his first season with the Bisons. Henry, the former captain of the Vancouver Giants who played the past five years in the Western Hockey League, has been one of the conference's top rookies. This year's team has 12 first-year players.

"We've made really big strides as a team this season, especially since the first couple of weeks when things weren't going so good. We've been competing more consistently and that's a really good thing for our team going into the last weekend of the season," said Henry.

The team has been led by Ian Duval's line with Blair Macaulay and Tyler Dittmer, who are all in the conference's top five in scoring. Macaulay is the Canada West scoring leader with 34 points while Dittmer is fifth with 27 points. Duval leads the conference in assists with 23 and is tied for third in overall points at 31 with Kyle Bortis of Saskatchewan.

"It's a lot of fun for us to be putting up some points but it's our responsibility to perform and put goals up on the board and we take that pretty seriously," said Duval. "It was kind of a shocker at the end of the year (last year) but we've learned from experience and we're going to be better in the playoffs."

Coach Jon Rempel's U of M women's team (10-11-5), which also has two regular-season games left, is hosting the Regina Cougars (16-7-3) this week. The Bisons women have clinched a top-six playoff spot and are battling to remain in fifth place. Manitoba is one point ahead of the sixth-place Saskatchewan Huskies.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Campus schedule

FRIDAY

Women's hockey: Regina at Manitoba, Max Bell Arena, 7 p.m.

Basketball: Saskatchewan at Manitoba, Investors Group Athletic Centre, women, 6 p.m., men, 8 p.m.

Basketball: Alberta at Winnipeg, Duckworth Centre, women, 6 p.m., men, 8 p.m.

SATURDAY

Women's hockey: Regina at Manitoba, Max Bell Arena, 7 p.m.

Basketball: Saskatchewan at Manitoba, Investors Group Athletic Centre, women, 6 p.m., men, 8 p.m.

Basketball: Alberta at Winnipeg, Duckworth Centre, women, 6 p.m., men, 8 p.m.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 7, 2013 D5

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