Target on Bisons’ back? No problem for defending national hockey champs

It's a predictable problem, right?

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/10/2018 (1635 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s a predictable problem, right?

Shortly after they won the first national championship in the 21-year history of the program, someone was asking members of the University of Manitoba Bisons women’s hockey team what they planned to do for an encore.

Was a repeat possible?

The Bisons think so and now, almost seven months after beating the Western Ontario Mustangs 2-0 in the U Sports national championship game, they’re ready to do their talking on the ice when they open the 2018-19 Canada West conference regular season against the visiting Calgary Dinos Friday and Saturday at Wayne Fleming Arena.

A 7 p.m. puck drop Friday will be preceded by a ceremony to unveil conference and national title banners.

Much of the pre-season chatter has centred around the Bisons successfully defending the title, and with 21 returning players from last season’s championship-winning squad, Manitoba’s outlook is strong. Canada West coaches added more pressure earlier this week when their annual pre-season poll installed the Bisons as slight favourites over Alberta to win the conference.


Pre-season conference coaches poll (voters ranked all conference teams except their own; first-place vote was worth seven points, second-place votes worth six points and so on):

1. Manitoba Bisons 43 points (5 first-place votes)

2. Alberta Pandas, 41 (2)

3. University of British Columbia T-birds, 38 (1)

4. Saskatchewan Huskies, 37

5. Mount Royal Cougars, 23

6. Regina Cougars, 22

7. Calgary Dinos, 13

8. Lethbridge Pronghorns, 7

“We’ve talked a lot about the pressure coming into this season,” newly appointed captain Erica Rieder said Wednesday morning. “I think the main message is we’re embracing the target. There’s definitely a target on our back and we are No. 1 until someone knocks us off… We’re embracing it and we’re thriving within the pressure. We did that last season and we know we can do it again.”

Rieder, the team’s highest scoring blue-liner a year ago, assumes the captaincy from Caitlin Fyten, who graduated in spring. Veteran forwards Jordyn Zacharias, Karissa Kirkup and Alanna Sharman will serve as alternates.

The Bisons went 6-1 during the pre-season under interim head coach Sean Fisher, who’s filling in for Jon Rempel while he’s on leave. Fyten, along with forwards Nicole Carswell, Charity Price, Alana Serhan, Venli Hovi and goaltender Rachel Dyck, have graduated.

“Obviously, I’m very proud of what we accomplished last year,” said fifth-year forward Karissa Kirkup. “But, again, this is a unique group. We lost some key players last year, we brought three outstanding players in and a lot of girls that are going to step up this year.”

Rieder, a second-team all-Canadian last season, isn’t afraid of high expectations.

“We’re going into every game knowing and believing we should win every game, so yes, there is that pressure and that outside opinion that we are favoured but the internal belief in our dressing room is that we should win those games,” she said.

Fourth-year forward Jordyn Zacharias, who led the club in scoring with 12 goals and 21 points in 28 conference games in 2018-19, is excited to get the regular season underway. However, Friday’s banner ceremony has been eagerly anticipated.

“Yes, it’s more about playing but (the banner raising is) going to be special, too. Our pre-season is so long, we’ve been going for six, seven weeks now,” said Zacharias. “It’s still better to get into the real season.

“We still have a good core of what we had last year. And we only have three incoming players and all of them are doing amazing, so our team still has a lot of experience and knows what it takes to get where we were last year.”

Fisher, meanwhile, replaces Rempel after four seasons as an assistant coach.

He has the luxury of starting No. 1 goaltender Lauren Taraschuk, who was sensational during Manitoba’s championship run as a rookie, posting a 0.71 goals-against average and .961 save percentage in 12 regular-season games.

Taraschuk’s numbers were even better during the Canada West playoffs as she went 4-0 with two shutouts, a 0.56 goals-against average and .969 save percentage.

“The message is the same, the voice is different,” said Fisher, when asked about the coaching change. “There’s going to be pressure no matter what, there’s going to be a target on our back no matter what.

“(We) have embraced that target, it’s kinda what fuels us, what motivates us. As far as additional pressure, when you have a veteran team like this, they embrace pressure, they don’t crack or fold under it.”

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.


Updated on Wednesday, October 3, 2018 10:15 PM CDT: Updates photos

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