Bisons stampede into U Sports tourney

Battle-tested women's hockey players confident in their abilities


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The University of Manitoba Bisons will begin the U Sports Women’s Hockey Championship in London, Ont., as a solid favourite to win their first national title.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/03/2018 (1840 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The University of Manitoba Bisons will begin the U Sports Women’s Hockey Championship in London, Ont., as a solid favourite to win their first national title.

But the No. 1-ranked Bisons have hardly built their reputation on blowout victories. Head coach Jon Rempel’s squad is as battled-tested as they come.

In fact, the newly crowned Canada West champions are 26-7 overall and have played in an astonishing 22 one-goal games this season, winning 18 times. They have also won six of the eight overtime games they’ve played in 2017-18.

“This group we have right now has been through a crazy amount of tight games and key games, so we definitely have the battle mentality,” fifth-year Manitoba forward Alana Serhan said from London, where the team practised for the second time Wednesday in preparation for Friday’s quarter-final matchup with the Queen’s Gaels.

“We know how to handle stressful, tight situations. Long overtimes, a lot of 1-0 games… it’s certainly something we’ve been through and something we’re prepared to do again this week if we have to.”

The speedy Bisons are also dedicated to defence, and they’ll need to be in top form to contain Queen’s star forward Katrina Manoukarakis, who was the Ontario University Athletics’ player of the year, after scoring 15 goals and 31 points in 30 games. Stephanie Pascal of the Gaels was the OUA’s goaltender of the year, posting a 14-3-3 record in 2017-18.

The Gaels, who won the OUA regular-season title but were swept in the league championship series by the Western Ontario Mustangs, enter the national tournament as the No. 8 seed.

“We’d obviously like to get lots of goals, but the competition here is really tough,” said Alanna Sharman, who plays on Manitoba’s top forward unit with Jordyn Zacharias and Finnish Olympian Venla Hovi. “Our first game is against Queen’s, and their goalie was the OUA goaltender of the year, so we know it’s going to be a tight tournament.”

Rempel, who rolls out a skilled second scoring line that consists of Lauryn Keen, Sheridan Oswald and Natasha Kostenko, has reviewed video of Queen’s past three games and has been plotting Friday’s game plan.

“Video tells you some things, but it doesn’t tell you everything,” said Rempel, who was named U Sports women’s hockey coach of the year Wednesday night. “You try to extrapolate what you’re seeing to real-ice and real-time situations. That’s not always easy to do. I think I like our skating ability as it pertains to what I can see there. Our ability to get up and down the ice will serve us well.”

The Bisons advanced to the Canada West final with a quadruple-overtime 1-0 win over the Alberta Pandas, and Rempel says it’s only one example of the team’s resolve.

“This group doesn’t take no for an answer,” Rempel said.

“I don’t see them, at the moment, overwhelming this team. If I look at the last three, four years with this team — so many long, extended games. The group has just been through one thing after another. I think they’re ready, they just want to play. It’s a very poised, mature group.”

Serhan said the program’s strong academic tradition, particularly with exams looming, has made a deep post-season run easier to handle.

“It isn’t easy, but I think last year we had 15 academic all-Canadians, which is having better than a 3.5 GPA, I believe,” said Serhan, a member of the No. 3 forward unit with Courtlyn Oswald and Allison Sexton. “This specific group is extremely good at time management — with practices, games, gym and academics. We keep in touch with our professors — getting extra help when we can.”

As the No. 1 seed, Rempel and the Bisons will have the home-team advantage of the last change in every game at the tournament. It’s an important edge.

“Very helpful, when you’re trying to dictate the pace and take advantage of certain things, it’s pretty invaluable,” Rempel said. “Particularly when you don’t know other teams as well as you would teams in your own conference. I like having last change.”

Rempel would not reveal his choice to tend the net in Friday’s quarter-final. Canada West rookie of the year Lauren Taraschuk and fifth-year veteran Rachel Dyck have split goaltending duties evenly during the season.

“I’m very confident I can go either way,” Rempel said.

Twitter: @sawa14


Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky

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

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