By Carter Brooks
Photos courtesy of the Belfast Giants
The University of Manitoba Bisons men's hockey program have spent the past 10 days touring the many historic sites of England, Ireland and Scotland in their somewhat annual pre-season trek to Europe.
Although the many tourist destinations kept the members of the Bisons' team and coaching staff thoroughly entertained, the four exhibition tune ups were the focal point of the European vacation.
Beginning with their 4-3 loss to the Elite Ice Hockey League's Manchester Storm last Tuesday, the Herd rebounded nicely with a last minute 2-1 victory over the Fife Flyers - who are also of the EIHL - on their Olympic sized ice surface on Thursday.
After some much needed rest and recovery, the team travelled to Belfast for a two-game back-to-back weekend showdown with the Giants, who finished the 2017-18 EIHL regular season with a 34-20-2 record. The Bisons referred to the two game set at Belfast's SSE Arena in Northern Ireland as a "valuable learning curve".
The first game was a blowout by the hosts, as the Bisons got themselves into a losing battle very quickly with penalty trouble in the early going. The Giants quickly jumped ahead to a 2-0 lead, and never looked back, scoring three goals in the opening frame, before finishing the game 6-1.
Mackenzie Dwyer scored Manitoba's only goal on a great setup play from captain Brett Stovin. Goaltender Byron Spriggs struggled on the night, stopping just 35 of 41 Belfast shots, ending the game with a .854 save percentage. The Giants' Tyler Beskorowany pushed aside 30 of the 31 pucks he faced, putting up a .968 save percentage en route to the 6-1 victory.
Sunday's contest was much closer, but the professionals from Europe once again took care of business against the visitors. It was a game determined by a one-and-a-half minute atrocity in the second period. After exchanging goals through the first 30 minutes of play, and with the game knotted up at twos, the University of Manitoba completely fell apart, giving up three goals in a span of just 78 seconds.
The Giants jumped ahead 3-2 on a deflection at the 31:40 mark, before two howitzers beat Dasan Sydora at the 32:39 and 32:58 minute marks, giving the Bisons a nearly impossible mountain to overcome down 5-2. After a much needed timeout, Manitoba collected two markers from Kamerin Nault, but could not find an equalizer, dropping their third contest of the trip - and second in back-to-back days against the Giants, 5-4.
The University of Manitoba team will now return home to Winnipeg after going 1-3 in four interesting contests overseas. The Herd will begin its regular season on October 12th when the the Alberta Golden Bears make their way to the Wayne Fleming Arena on the University of Manitoba campus for the Bisons' 2018-19 home opener.