Friday, 8 February 2019

Bisons’ Taraschuk keeps cementing status as one of U Sports’ best goalies

Lauren Taraschuk (#35) makes one of her 31 saves for the Bisons on Friday.
    When Lauren Taraschuk has her surreal calm going on, it spells trouble for the opposition.
    The 19-year-old star netminder was on top of her game on Friday night at Merlis Belsher Place. She made 31 saves to back the University of Manitoba Bisons to a 2-1 victory over the host University of Saskatchewan Huskies in a U Sports women’s hockey regular season contest before 536 spectators.
    Taraschuk used her 6-foot frame to perfection to take away a lot of the Bisons net, moved fluidly in goal with little to no wasted movement and her left glove catching hand was golden.
    “I felt just on,” said Taraschuk. “I felt really on my game tonight, even though my legs are absolutely gassed.
Lauren Taraschuk backstopped the Bisons to a national title.
    “I’ve tried to put that aside, and I just stay focused on each shot and just made the saves as they came.”
    She needed to be on.
    The Huskies pinned the Bisons for extended periods of time in their own zone ultimately holding a 32-15 edge in shots on goal.
    The visitors were able to score first as skilled centre Jordyn Zacharias netted her 11th goal of the season at the 11:55 mark of the first period to give U of M the edge.
    With 25.5 seconds to play in the opening frame, Huskies left-winger Emily Upgang tipped home a mid-range shot from U of S captain Brooklyn Haubrich to tie things up at 1-1.
    Having departed from Winnipeg, Man., early Friday morning for that night’s game, Taraschuk admitted the bus legs had an effect on the Bisons side in the clash with the Huskies.
    “I can say that wasn’t our best for sure,” said Taraschuk, whose squad improved to 21-4-2-1 to remain second in the Canada West Conference. “It is tough coming off the bus after a long ride, but that is still no excuse.
Lauren Taraschuk makes a glove save on a high shot.
    “We weren’t really moving our feet. We can definitely can be better.”
    Still, the sophomore goalie believed if she kept making saves her teammates would make one play to take the lead.
    That play came 34 seconds into the third period, when Bisons fifth-year defender Alexandra Anderson roofed home a screen shot from the left slot past Huskies star netminder Jessica Vance into the U of S goal. That tally gave the Bisons their 2-1 lead.
    Taraschuk ensured Anderson’s goal stood up as the winner making 11 saves in the third period alone to close out the victory for the defending Canada West and U Sports national champs, who are currently rated second in the U Sports Top 10 rankings.
Lauren Taraschuk holds her ground in her crease.
    Vance made 13 saves to take the setback in goal for the Huskies, who fell to 15-10-1-1 and will finish fourth in Canada West.
    “It definitely helps with the team that I have in front of me,” said Taraschuk. “It definitely did last year just get my confidence up as a rookie.
    “Carrying through this year, I am very confident with the team that I have in front of me. If I can focus on my game, I know they are going to do their job up front. If I can do my part, then we’ll get the win.”
    Of course, last season was a whirlwind campaign for Taraschuk. The graduate from Winnipeg’s J.H. Bruns Collegiate was just looking for playing time as a rookie with the Bisons having fifth-year veteran Rachel Dyck on their roster.
Lauren Taraschuk played big in the Bisons goal on Friday.
    Taraschuk would have a spectacular first season posting a 10-2 record, a 0.71 goals against average, a .961 save percentage and five shutouts in regular season play. She was named the Canada West rookie of the year and to the U Sports all-rookie team.
    She go on a legendary run in the playoffs. After the Bisons fell in the first game of a best-of-three Canada West semifinal series at home to the University of Alberta Pandas, Taraschuk was inserted as the starter for Game 2.
    She would never leave the crease of the U of M goal again recording seven straight post-season victories to back the Bisons to their first national title. Over those seven games, Taraschuk turned away 153 of the 157 shots she faced and stoned another two shooters in a tiebreaking shootout in a national semifinal victory over the Concordia University Stingers.
Emily Upgang had the Huskies lone goal on Friday.
    “As soon as I started to get rolling in the second half there and through playoffs, it was a blast,” said Taraschuk. “Coming in as a rookie, you don’t see that a lot, but it was pretty cool.”
    The grad of the Winnipeg Avros female midget AAA team credits her Bisons goalie coach, Gavin McHale, for helping her develop her calm in goal. McHale, who played in the WHL from 2004 to 2006 with the Seattle Thunderbirds and Lethbridge Hurricanes, is also one of the emergency backup goalies that can be used in NHL games in Winnipeg.
    “I’ve definitely learned a lot from him,” said Taraschuk. “I think I’ve also brought a lot of it from just being me and how I am as a goalie.
    “I tend to be very calm, and it throws some people off because some people say it is not normal. I think it just really works for me being calm and confident in the net. It just helped me playing my game.”
Alexandra Anderson, left, scored the winning goal for the Bisons.
    Taraschuk has had a solid sophomore campaign posting a 17-4-3 record, a 1.54 goals against average, a .934 save percentage and one shutout. Going into this season, she said her mindset was the same as last season but there were, of course, some differences.
    “Coming in this year, I kind of knew I was number one, and I had a role to play on this team,” said Taraschuk. “It has been different, because of the amount of ice time that I’ve had. I think I have been managing it well and just taking care of my body each and every day.
    “It has been great. It has been a huge turnaround from last year, but I just kept rolling right from last year to now.”
Abby Shirley and the Huskies couldn’t net a third period equalizer.
    The Bisons and Huskies will go at it again on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Merlis Belsher Place to close their respective regular season schedules.
    When her time with the Bisons comes to an end, Taraschuk said she would love to have the chance to be one of the few goalies that continues playing high level hockey beyond the post-secondary level.
    For now, she wants to keep playing well for the Bisons. With the post-season just around the corner, she said the experience of winning the conference title and nationals last year provides big motivation to do it again this year.
    “The feeling that we experienced last year was something that everyone wants to experience, and not a lot of people get that chance,” said Taraschuk. “Definitely, that is in the back of our minds right now.
Lauren Taraschuk, left, and Lauren Warkentin fist bump for the Bisons win.
    “We definitely focus on one game at a time. I think once playoffs come that is definitely going to be a goal of ours. Not saying it is not a goal right now, but I think it will be more in the back of our heads as soon as playoffs come.”

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