Mike Still, Bison Sports
WINNIPEG — In a tilt between two Canada West powerhouses, it was the No. 4 Alberta Pandas (12-3-2-0) who were able to top the No. 2 Manitoba Bisons (10-4-2-1) 3-2 at Wayne Fleming Arena in a thrilling affair.
It was the third victory of the year for the Canada West-leading Pandas over second place Manitoba, after a sweep at home in the first half of the year.
The two teams combined for four power play goals in a game where special teams was a massive factor, however it was Autumn MacDougall's conference-leading tenth goal at even strength at the end of the second period that ended up being the game-winner.
"We had a forward caught back defending there, and it was just kind of a shot from a bad angle I think that maybe surprised [Lauren Taraschuk] a little bit," Bisons head coach Sean Fisher said of the MacDougall goal.
"But again, it's a personnel thing. Autumn MacDougall is a good player. She's scored a lot of goals in our conference over the past couple of years."
Not surprisingly, the contest featured plenty of north-south action with each goalie being tested early and often.
The Pandas utilized a smothering attack in the neutral zone and strong puck movement to gain a number of quality chances in the first period. Defenders Lindsay Weech and Kiara Machry both had quality opportunities within the first ten minutes of play, however Manitoba goaltender Lauren Taraschuk was up to the task.
The Bisons countered with their trademark speed, with the line of Sheridan Oswald, Jordyn Zacharias and Alanna Sharman — who was making her season debut after a pre-season knee injury — all having a big impact.
"You could kind of see [Sharman] getting better as the game went along," Fisher said. "Her and [Jordyn Zacharias] have such great chemistry so you get an upgrade right away."
Sharman also had one of Manitoba's best chances of the period, as she sped into the Pandas end, outmuscled her defender to the puck and had a stellar opportunity from in tight, however Alberta netminder Kirsten Chamberlin was solid.
The story of the middle frame was special teams, as the two teams combined for three minor penalties each. It was the Pandas that took control of the contest with the man advantage however, scoring two power play goals. Overall, they have now tallied four special teams markers against Manitoba this year.
The first goal with the extra skater came off a deflection at 2:45, as Kennedy Ganser got a stick on captain Cayle Dillon's shot from the point for her eighth goal on the season. The Pandas would double up their lead on the power play once more just under seven minutes later, thanks to a quick shot from forward Kelsey Tangjerd that beat a screened Taraschuk.
On the other end, Manitoba had a bit of trouble setting up their special teams attack but did have some good looks. Their best chance came off a shot from the point by defender Jenai Buchanan which sat idle just outside the crease for what seemed like a minute, but no Bison player was able to cash in.
The hosts also had a stellar chance to get on the board on an even strength two-on-one from forwards Courtlyn Oswald and Allison Sexton, however the puck bounced up just slightly.
Alberta would then add to their lead with just under three minutes to go, as MacDougall sped down the left side and beat Taraschuk to the far post.
After a tough go in the second period, Manitoba responded with two power play goals in the first seven minutes of the third period.
First, power play quarterback Alexandra Anderson blasted a rocket past Chamberlin 32 seconds in, with an assist going to Sharman, who led the team in power play assists a year ago.
Then, just under seven minutes in, forward Lauryn Keen found the back of the net from the slot on some excellent tape-to-tape passing.
The Pandas pushed back, with MacDougall generating a few opportunities with her speed, but Taraschuk shut the door.
Manitoba had a flurry of chances late, but couldn't gain the equalizer as the visitors upped their lead for first place in the standings to four points.
The two squads will be back at it tomorrow at 2 p.m.