Saturday, 11 August 2018

Here’s hoping hype of U Sports national champion Bisons doesn’t fade away

Jordyn Zacharias celebrates a goal in the Canada West finals.
    They were played up as the feel good story last February and March in Winnipeg.
    During that time, the University of Manitoba Bisons women’s hockey team went on a historic run. They accomplished a lot of firsts.
    The Herd topped the Canada West standings for the first time in team history with a 22-5-1 mark, hosted the best-of-three Canada West Championship Series for the first time in team history sweeping away the U of Saskatchewan Huskies 2-0 and captured the U Sports national title for the first time in team history. 
    In the elite-eight style national championship tournament held in London, Ont., last March, the Bisons blanked the host University of Western Ontario Mustangs 2-0 in the tournament’s final game.
    Over that period of time, the Bisons were given a big push from the media outlets in the Manitoba capital. It seemed like their players were appearing everywhere.
Venla Hovi came from Finland to star for the Bisons.
    The NHL’s Winnipeg Jets were a backer before the Bisons national title win. They showed the Bisons score on the MTS Place scoreboard when the Herd won Game 1 of the Canada West Championship Series 1-0 in overtime over the Huskies.
    After winning the national title, congratulations poured in for the Bisons from various sports teams and groups in Winnipeg. The team was honoured before a Jets game in late March.
    The Bisons visited City Hall and were given Outstanding Achievement Award Medals from the City of Winnipeg.
    They were on the cover of various local publications.
    They were the toast of the town.
    Bisons head coach Jon Rempel, who was named the U Sports coach of the year for the first time in his career, guided a crew on the ice that you had to like. They were approachable and sociable. On an obvious front, they played the game extremely well.
Caitlin Fyten led the Bisons to a national title as captain.
    They had a star winger from Finland in Venla Hovi, and it seems Finnish players always do well in Winnipeg considering the time Teemu Selanne spent with the original NHL Jets and Patrik Laine is enjoying with the current NHL Jets.
    Hovi was complimented with a strong group of forwards in Alanna Sharman, Jordyn Zacharias, Lauryn Keen, Alana Serhan, Sheridan Oswald and Courtlyn Oswald. The defence was anchored by captain Caitlin Fyten and Regina, Sask., product Erica Rieder, who was a second team all-Canadian all-star.
    In goal, rookie Lauren Taraschuk rose to prominence winning Canada West rookie of the year honours and being named to the U Sports all-rookie team.
    Still when a women’s team has success like the Bisons did, it seems their accomplishments disappears too quickly from the minds of the general public.
Lauren Taraschuk rose to star status as a rookie playing goal for the Bisons.
    In 2016, the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity released a study regarding the connection between women and sport in Canada. A couple of the facts revolved around media coverage.
    An analysis was done on Canada’s primary national sports networks in English and French in 2014. The study said only four per cent of the coverage on those networks was dedicated to women’s sports and over half of that number was dedicated to coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
    A study was done on the Saturday sports section front pages in two of Canada’s highest circulated national newspapers from June 2008 to May 2010 and June 2013 to May 2015. Over those time frames, 5.1 per cent of the coverage was dedicated to women’s sports.
Erica Rieder was a second team all-Canadian on defence.
    Of course, that study only considered a small sampling size of the print industry.
    It can be argued since that time the coverage of women’s sports in Canada has decreased thanks to massive cuts in the mainstream media, which has often targeted sports departments. Sports coverage seems to get more and more focused on just the NHL, which causes everything else in the sports scene to be out of luck.
    The Bisons national championship victory over the Mustangs wasn’t even broadcast on television.
    Despite those numbers, it would be sweet to see the Bisons women’s hockey team buck that trend and have some staying power. They rocked at the sport Canada as a country loves the most.
    They created excitement for the U of Manitoba campus that hasn’t been seen for some time.
    During the Canada West Championship Series, the Wayne Fleming Arena on the U of Manitoba campus was a smaller version of the Jets home rink atmosphere wise.
Bisons fans created a crazy atmosphere at the Wayne Fleming Arena.
    Overall, Bisons teams have combined to win 44 U Sports national titles, but only five of those have come since the start of the 2003-04 campaign. The national title win by the Bisons women’s hockey team was a first for the school since the 2013-14 campaign, when the Bisons women’s volleyball team won a U Sports national crown.
    The Bisons women’s hockey team will undergo some transition going into next season. In July, assistant coach Sean Fisher was elevated to interim head coach as Rempel received a six-month reassignment of duties to allow for professional development. Rempel had been the head coach of the Bisons women’s hockey team for the past 14 seasons.
Alanna Sharman (#24) is one of the Bisons star forwards.
    The Herd lost Fyten, Serhan, Charity Price, Karissa Kirkup and goalie Rachel Dyck to fifth-year graduation. Hovi, who arguably had the best Twitter account in U Sports, still had a year of eligibility remaining, but she has returned home to Finland, where she has been a member of that country’s senior national women’s team for a number of years.
    Despite those changes, the Bisons women’s hockey team possesses a kick butt street cred in Winnipeg. If any of the players from the Bisons women’s hockey team are seen around town wearing their team gear, they are automatically deemed as cool.
    Winnipeg has some independent media outlets, so here is hoping the ongoing story of the Bisons women’s hockey team doesn’t fade away.

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