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Bisons ready for McGill

Saskatchewan and Alberta meetings in the Canada West hockey final are pretty much a spring ritual.
Mike Sirant

Saskatchewan and Alberta meetings in the Canada West hockey final are pretty much a spring ritual.

Like Edmonton and Calgary back in the NHL’s divisional playoff days, the two teams duke it out year after year, usually for the right to represent the league at nationals. But this year, when Canada West had two representatives thanks to a rotating wild card, the Manitoba Bisons upset the apple cart.

The Bisons knocked off Saskatchewan in the semifinal round and this weekend will continue their quest for the first CIS crown in school history.

"Saskatchewan had not lost a home playoff series in 17 seasons," said Bisons coach Mike Sirant, reached by phone at his Winnipeg office. "So to go in and beat Saskatchewan was a big achievement for our program.

"Then going into Alberta and building on the momentum and belief that was created from the success in Saskatchewan, I believe we really gave Alberta a tough series. They won the Canada West conference, and they were deserving, but we challenged them and they had to earn it."

The payoff is a chance to do something no other Bisons squad has ever accomplished.

"It’s a huge opportunity for the Bisons program," said forward Blair Macaulay. "It’s definitely an exciting time and we’re looking forward to this opportunity.

Macaulay, who tied for second on the low-scoring squad with eight goals, said the roller-coaster team has found its game at precisely the right time, even managing to take No. 1 seed Alberta to the limit in the Canada West final.

"Our team has had its ups and downs throughout the season, but the feeling in the dressing room is that we are peaking at the right time. We have had a successful last couple of weekends and we feel we are in good position to make a strong push to be national champions."

Though Sirant didn’t want to single out any one player as the key to the Bisons success, Alberta coach Eric Thurston didn’t hesitate to name Manitoba goalie Steve Christie the No. 1 goalie in the conference and a big part of their success.

On that, Sirant agreed.

"That’s what somebody called it the other day, the X-factor. Goaltending is a tremendous factor in the playoffs and Steve was outstanding in Alberta and also outstanding in Saskatchewan and played a big factor in our success in the playoffs and all season," Sirant said.

Macaulay said that plays to the Bisons’ strengths, a team that prides itself on aggressive play at both ends of the rink.

"Our strength as a team is our defensive play and that revolves around our goaltender. He gives us a chance to win every night and we have a lot of confidence knowing he’s back there between the pipes," Macaulay said.

As a team Manitoba allowed the fifth-fewest goals in Canada in 2009-10, but even if Christie proves to be the second coming of Terry Sawchuk, it won’t be enough if they aren’t firing all cylinders when they start their quest on Thursday afternoon against McGill.

"We have to play each shift with intensity and desperation," Macaulay said. "Our success will revolve around being defensively responsible which will lead to offence. Our goal is to outwork the opposing team each shift."

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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