June 21, 2018

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Plenty of ice for playoff-bound Bisons

Injuries, departures lead to more shifts and position changes for players

All through his midget and junior hockey career, Adam Henry never had the luxury of taking as much ice time as he could handle.

Lately, the veteran University of Manitoba defenceman has been getting plenty of extra work. He plays on all the Bisons’ special teams and routinely logs up to 30 minutes per game. He’s been in good company this season as Manitoba preps for a Canada West quarter-final series against the Calgary-based Mount Royal Cougars.

The best-of-three series opens Friday night at Wayne Fleming Arena. Game time is 7 p.m.

“We’ve had injuries and a couple of guys left the team early on,” Henry said, a 23-year-old Winnipeg product. “The way it works in college is you can’t call someone up from the level below you... you’ve kinda got to deal with what you’ve got. We’ve made due and in some ways, it’s actually been good because we’re all forced to play more. No one’s complaining about ice time because we’re all getting lots of it.”

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All through his midget and junior hockey career, Adam Henry never had the luxury of taking as much ice time as he could handle.

Lately, the veteran University of Manitoba defenceman has been getting plenty of extra work. He plays on all the Bisons’ special teams and routinely logs up to 30 minutes per game. He’s been in good company this season as Manitoba preps for a Canada West quarter-final series against the Calgary-based Mount Royal Cougars.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>U of M Men’s Bisons defenceman Adam Henry at practice Wednesday.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

U of M Men’s Bisons defenceman Adam Henry at practice Wednesday.

The best-of-three series opens Friday night at Wayne Fleming Arena. Game time is 7 p.m.

"We’ve had injuries and a couple of guys left the team early on," Henry said, a 23-year-old Winnipeg product. "The way it works in college is you can’t call someone up from the level below you... you’ve kinda got to deal with what you’ve got. We’ve made due and in some ways, it’s actually been good because we’re all forced to play more. No one’s complaining about ice time because we’re all getting lots of it."

The Bisons are down to five regular defencemen with a sixth, team captain Brett Stovin, a 23-year-old from Stony Mountain, making a semi-permanent move from forward to defence.

"I was up for it," Stovin said about the transition, triggered by a broken hand suffered by Channing Brescani just prior to the Christmas break. "It’s a unique challenge and it’s definitely a way I can help the team the most. At one point in the second half, I played right wing, centre and defence all in the same period. It’s a utility job, that’s for sure."

The 16-10-2 Bisons finished third in Canada West this season, capitalizing on a re-energized offence powered by first-year centre Michael St. Croix, a resilient D corps and all-star calibre goaltending from Byron Spriggs.

Henry and Stovin, both third-year players, experienced first-round post-season exits in each of their two previous seasons with the Bisons. The time is right to break out since Manitoba’s hockey program has not won a playoff series since beating Mount Royal 2-1 in a quarter-final series in 2014. It’s been a long four years.

"It would definitely be nice to get a series win under my belt here," said Stovin, who never advanced beyond the opening round of the playoffs in his four seasons with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.

"It’s definitely going to be different, I’m playing defence now. It’ll be the first-ever playoff series playing on the back end."

Stovin expects to be part of a six-man rotation against the 12-14-2 Cougars, but as the club’s only right-handed centre, he may also be called upon to take some faceoffs in the defensive zone. The Bisons lost eight straight games to Mount Royal over the past two seasons, but broke through in 2017-18 by winning three of four.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS </p><p>U of M Men’s Bisons team captain Brett Stovin finds a teammate for a pass during practice on Wednesday. </p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

U of M Men’s Bisons team captain Brett Stovin finds a teammate for a pass during practice on Wednesday.

"The tale has kinda turned this year," Henry said.

"We’ve got a pretty deep roster. Skill on our first two lines and some grit in our bottom six. Our goaltending has been terrific. As far as doubt, there shouldn’t be any doubt. We should know we are be able to do it. It’s been a while since the Bisons won a playoff series and we’re set for the challenge."

It’s also worth mentioning that winning the quarter-final and semifinal rounds in Canada West will result in a berth in the national championship. The conference finalists will travel to Fredricton, N.B., for the University Cup in March.

"The league’s very good, but I also think this is best team we’ve had in a very long time," Stovin said.

"Obviously, (first-place) U of (Alberta) is super skilled, but we’ve had success against them because we’re much bigger, much tougher. In a way, we feel like we can beat every team."

STILL NO. 1: Manitoba’s top-ranked women’s hockey team gets a well-deserved break this weekend with a bye during the opening round of the playoffs. The Bisons, who finished first in Canada West with a 22-6 record, will host a best-of-three semifinal Feb. 23, 24 and 25 (if necessary).

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

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

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