In an early-season clash between two of the best women’s hockey programs in Canada, the Alberta Pandas host the defending conference and national champion Manitoba Bisons this weekend at Clare Drake Arena.
The 1-1-0-0 Pandas and 2-0-0-0 Bisons will kick off their weekend series at 7:00 p.m. on Friday night, with the rematch scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
The eight-time national champion Pandas opened their season with a series split last weekend in Saskatoon, getting shutout 1-0 in the opener, before responding with a 2-1 win on Saturday. Kennedy Ganser and Autumn MacDougall each scored in Saturday’s win, while third-year goalie Kirsten Chamberlin stopped 25 of the 26 shots she faced.
The Bisons began their title defence with an impressive series sweep of Calgary in Winnipeg, earning 3-1 and 4-1 victories last weekend. Lauryn Keen paced Manitoba with four points (1 G, 3 A), with Lauren Taraschuk making 37 saves over the two wins.
Not only have these two programs been among the best in the Canada West regular season, but have also developed a significant playoff rivalry.
The Bisons knocked off the Pandas in last year’s CW Semifinal, highlighted by a 1-0, quadruple overtime win in Game 3. The two teams have met in four straight post-seasons, with the Pandas winning the 2017 semifinal and 2015 final, while the Bisons defeated Alberta in the 2016 conference semi.
It would be a safe bet to assume both Alberta and Manitoba will once again finish at, or near the top of the standings again this season. The two programs were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the pre-season Canada West coaches’ poll, and return every all-star from last year.
Defenders Cayle Dillon and Taylor Kezama, as well as First Team All-Star forwards Alex Poznikoff and MacDougall anchor the Pandas.
Defenceman Erica Rieder (First Team) and Lauren Warkentin (All-Rookie) join Jordyn Zacharias (First) and Alanna Sharman (Second) as returning all-stars for the Bisons. Lauren Taraschuk also captured the conference Rookie of the Year award after posting a 10-2 record for Manitoba in 2017-18.
While returning almost their entire core group from last year, the Pandas were also boosted by the addition of an impressive first-year class. Experienced veterans Alex Gowie (Hungarian National Team) and Danielle Hardy (Providence College), as well as true rookies Halle Oswald and Kalaina Kozak are all expected to impact the Pandas this season.
First national crown
After their thrilling win over Alberta in the conference semi, the Bisons went on to eliminate Saskatchewan in the final for their third CW title, and first since 2011. Manitoba went on to beat Queen’s, Concordia, and Western in London, Ontario to win their first ever U SPORTS title last March.