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This article was published 25/2/2018 (1004 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Venla Hovi could have stayed behind in Pyeongchang to soak up the Olympic closing ceremonies with the other members of the Finnish women's hockey team.
Instead, the bronze medalist spent more than 24 gruelling hours travelling back to Canada in time to suit up for a pair of do-or-die games with her other teammates on the University of Manitoba Bisons.
And what a decision that proved to be. Hovi, 30, set up an epic, series-winning goal in quadruple overtime Sunday night as the No. 1 ranked Bisons beat the No. 2 ranked Alberta Pandas 1-0 to advance to the Canada West women's hockey finals.
"I didn't doubt it for one second. I was coming back," Hovi told the Free Press just moments after Jordyn Zacharias's perfect deflection of her pass ended the marathon game with 6:30 left in the seventh period of hockey. The game, clocking in at 123:30 (the first overtime period was just 10 minutes), is the second longest in Canada West conference playoff history.
Manitoba will host the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in the best-of-three Canada West championship series next weekend. All three games, beginning Friday, will be played at Wayne Fleming Arena. Both teams also get an automatic berth in the USPORTS National Championships at Western University in London, Ontario in mid-March.
The Pandas won Friday night's opener 4-1, but the Bisons stayed alive with a 2-1 overtime victory Saturday night which saw Hovi's hockey bag arrive about two hours before the game. She recorded an assist on their first goal. That victory, with blue liner Alexandra Anderson getting the big goal, forced a winner-take-all game three which seemed like it would never end.
"It felt a little bit rougher than I thought it would, but I didn't doubt for one second that we couldn't do it," said Hovi, the fourth-year student who was the most dangerous player on the ice with numerous chances to win it. "Everybody keeps talking to me about the Olympic medal, but this is the team that I'm with every day, so it really matters."
First-year Bisons goalie Lauren Taraschuk stood tall, stopping all 31 shots she faced for a huge shutout on a grand stage. That included all 12 shots in the opening period when Alberta really carried the play.
"We knew what we wanted this outcome to be. I just had to stay in there for my team," Taraschuk said following the game. She admitted there were plenty of nerves -- especially when the Pandas rattled one off the crossbar late in the third period with their season on the line.
"My adrenaline just took over. It was like, just get it done, we worked for this, we deserve this," she said.
Zacharias, a first-team Canada West Al-Star, couldn't stop smiling after scoring the biggest goal of her hockey career. She credited Hovi with making the perfect feed.
"An amazing pass," said Zacharias, the third-year student who finished third-overall in Canada West scoring with 12 goals and nine assists during the season. "I just hoped for a tip the best I could. I was hoping if there was a rebound maybe I could pick it up. But I got lucky."
Veteran Bisons coach Jon Rempel, now in his 14th year, credited his team with never giving and fighting through adversity, including dropping the opening game of the series.
"I felt if we just kept grinding and grinding and grinding we'd find one," Rempel told the Free Press. "They were so good today. They played the right way the whole game. They just persevered and I'm so happy for those girls in that room."
Manitoba went 22-5-1 during the regular-season and are now poised to make some noise on the national stage.
The news wasn't so good this weekend for Bisons volleyball teams in Canada West quarter-final action The women's team was swept in two straight matches by No. 3 UBC Okanagan. The men's team had a similar fate against No. 2 UBC Okanagan. The losses bring an end to their seasons.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
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