The University of Manitoba men's hockey team won their opening game at the 2010 Canadian Interuniversity Sport men's hockey championship in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Thursday, with a gutsy come-from-behind effort that may bode well for what lies ahead.
Bisons forward Mike Hellyer scored the game-winner 1:51 into overtime for the No. 5-seeded Bisons who had battled back from a third-period three-goal deficit to defeat the second-seeded McGill Redmen 5-4.
"That is the biggest goal I've scored in my career up to date," Hellyer, a third-year player from Brandon who was named game MVP, said in a telephone interview from the Bisons dressing room right after the game.
Trailing McGill 4-1 when the third period opened, the Bisons began their stunning comeback on a goal by Kyle Howarth with his second of the game at 3:55, followed by Hellyer's first goal of the game at 16:42. Ian Duval forced the overtime when the Winnipeg native scored the tying goal with 4.8 seconds left in the game after the Bisons pulled goalie Steve Christie for the extra man.
In overtime, Duval assisted on Hellyer's game-winner.
"It's huge for the Bisons program but in saying that, everyone in our dressing room knows that we haven't done anything yet," Hellyer said. "We've got some confidence now but we've still got a long way to go before we put the program where we want it to be (in the final). That all starts on Saturday night."
With the win, the Bisons get today off and will meet the No.3-seed Saint Mary's Huskies on Saturday at 1 p.m. The game will be webcast on www.ssncanada.ca and shown on Rogers Sportsnet. If the Bisons win, they will move on to Sunday's championship final.
Bisons head coach Mike Sirant said he was proud of his team for not quitting when faced with the onerous task of a hefty third-period comeback.
"In the many, many years I've been coaching, that has to rank as one of the most character and heart wins," said Sirant, who returned this season after spending the past three coaching Denmark's national team. Don MacGillivray, now head coach of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League's Winnipeg South Blues, coached the team in Sirant's absence.
"We needed to get an early goal in that period, we got it and the guys just took off from there. We just had to keep our belief."
Hellyer said though the optics of being down 4-1 heading into the third period were very bad, that seemed to be when the Bisons were at their best.
"We played better than that score dictated, we out-chanced them and the shots were about even but we just couldn't put the puck in the net," said Hellyer, Manitoba's regular-season scoring leader.
"It was the boys and the character we have in the dressing room. We have this group of guys for a reason, we never give up, that was evident in our playoff run against Saskatchewan and U of A. We fight right to the end whistle and that's the reason we won today. It is amazing, it really is. Now we have to build on that momentum."