Having emerged as an impact player for the Manitoba Bisons, rookie sensation Lauren Taraschuk has achieved what few first-year goaltenders have aspired to attain: the Golden Path Trophy. Prior to the postseason, Taraschuk already had a tremendous momentum, staking her claim as the future of elite goaltending in Canadian university hockey.
Part of a recruiting class that included Winnipeg Avros teammates Madison Cole and Émilie Massé, Taraschuk made an immediate impact with the Bisons, quickly emerging as one to watch in conference play. Making her mark as the 2016-17 Manitoba Female Midget Hockey League goaltending champion, the 6’0” goaltender enjoyed a pair of First Team All-Star nods, a provincial championship in 2015 with the Central Plains Capitals, qualifying for a spot at the Esso Cup National Championships, where the Capitals played for the bronze medal.
Continuing her wondrous ways at the university level, Taraschuk’s rise to prominence emerged as one of the feel-good stories of the 2107-18 USports women’s hockey season. In what was shaping to be one of the most formidable rookie seasons ever for a goaltender, there was a remarkable haul of hockey hardware for Taraschuk. Garnering Canada West Rookie of the Year honors, it was a fitting prize that recognized a series of captivating performances that has seen this promising superstar emerge as the class of the conference.
Becoming the sixth player in program history to emerge as the Rookie of the Year Award recipient, joining Stephanie Messner, Stacey Corfield, Addie Miles, Caitlin MacDonald and Alanna Sharman, it may definitely be the springboard for many more honors and accolades to come, as she holds the potential for even greater things. In addition, she also garnered the Bison Sport Female Rookie of the Year Award, while Jon Rempel earned both the Bison Sport Coach of the Year Award, plus Canada West Coach of the Year honors for the second straight season.
“Being recognized as the Canada West Rookie of the Year meant so much to me because it proved that all of my hard work this year has paid off and that it was being recognized. I am truly honoured to win this award and grateful for all the support I have received this season from my teammates, coaches, and family.”
Statistically, Taraschuk was a marvel for the Bisons. Ranking first in Canada West with a minuscule goals against average of 0.71 (allowing merely eight goals in 12 games played), her .961 save percentage placed second overall, respectively. Other notable metrics included fourth in the conference with 10 wins, complemented by a sparkling .909-win percentage which paced all Canada West netminders.
Sharing goaltending duties during the regular season with fifth year veteran Rachel Dyck, Taraschuk’s debut in Bisons colors took place on October 14, 2017 in a 4-2 win versus the defending national champion Alberta Pandas, a team that would also play a prominent part in her postseason journey. A pair of goals by Alana Serhan, including the game-winning tally, was complemented by goals from Caitlin Fyten, Alison Sextan, as seven Bisons earned at least one point in the win.
In spite of the fact that her next contest six days later resulted in a loss, a visceral 1-0 final against Saskatchewan, Taraschuk would reel off five straight wins, solidifying her place in the Bisons goaltending picture. Such a masterful winning streak included series sweeps against both Mount Royal and Regina.
Perhaps more impressive was the fact that Taraschuk logged shutouts in each series, blanking Mount Royal in a valiant 1-0 performance on October 28. The game-winning goal in this historic win for Taraschuk was scored by Venla Hovi in the first period, with assists credited to Alanna Sharman and Lauryn Keen. As a side note, Hovi would finish the season as the recipient of the Bisons’ Female Athlete of the Year Award. A November 10 win versus Regina saw Jordyn Zacharias, Lauryn Keen and Sheridan Oswald place their names on the scoresheet, as Taraschuk recorded 20 saves in the 4-0 final.
Starting the New Year with her third shutout of the season, making 26 saves in a thrilling 1-0 final versus Saskatchewan on home ice, Taraschuk followed it up with another shutout. Hosting Mount Royal in a series which spanned from January 19-20, she started the first game, needing just 14 saves. Coincidentally, the final score once again was 1-0.
Taraschuk’s only start in February, which was also her last start of the regular season, would serve as the crowning touch to a remarkable rookie season, blanking the always competitive University of Calgary Dinos in a 6-0 final for her fifth shutout.
Finishing with a 10-2-0 win-loss mark, Dyck’s nine wins propelled the Bisons into postseason contention with a superlative 19 wins. As the season progressed, this tremendous goaltending duo also helped the program attain the No. 1 ranking in the national polls, a first for the Bisons. Perhaps Taraschuk’s greatest achievement of the season was the remarkable maturity displayed, respecting Dyck’s legacy with the program, devoted to success of the team over any individual glories.
“I believe my season was so successful as rookie because I put in the work on and off the ice and I was so focused and determined to get playing time and to prove that I was capable of helping my team win. I realized that I was a rookie behind a fifth year goalie so I had to be very patient and whenever I got the chance to play, I stuck to my game and played the way I always have.”
Taraschuk’s legend truly took on luster with a memorable playoff performance that has placed her into Bisons’ sporting immortality. the opening round of the Canada West playoff saw the No. 1 Bisons pitted in an intense series against the No. 2 Pandas, eager to return to the national championship picture. Losing the opening game by a 4-1 final at Wayne Fleming Arena, the Bisons bounced back admirably.
Capturing a 2-1 overtime win in the second game, as Alexandra Anderson supplied the heroics, the deciding game would prove to be one of the most exhilarating matches at any level of women’s ice hockey in 2017-18. With quadruple overtime required to determine the winner of simultaneously the game and the series, it was a career highlight for all involved.
As a defensive stalemate unfolded in this growing rivalry, Taraschuk amazed as she displayed a combination of poise and self-assurance that was destined to turn the tide into the Bisons’ favor. As Hovi fed Zacharias the puck to score the game-winning tally, Taraschuk’s 31 saves were essential in the victory, which was the second longest game in Canada West playoff history. With Zacharias gaining First Star of the Game honors, Taraschuk and Alberta goltender Kirsten Chamberlin gained Second and Third Star nods.
Recording consecutive wins against Saskatchewan in the Canada West Finals, another intense overtime was part of this series. The first game saw a scoreless draw in regulation time. Rising to the occasion, Bisons captain Caitlin Fyten score with 8.6 seconds left in overtime as the fans at Wayne Fleming Arena roared in approval. Mirroring the Three Star selections in the overtime against Alberta, Fyten, who scored the game-winning tally gained First Star, while the goaltenders, Taraschuk and Jessica Vance, the 2018 Canada West Player of the Year Award, were recognized as Second and Third Star.
Although both teams were understandably exhausted the following day, Taraschuk displayed her mettle, as she needed just 18 saves, as the Bisons disposed of their opponents in a 5-2 triumph to capture the conference crown, the third in program history, enabling the Bisons to reach the USports Nationals. Worth noting, she also logged 259:30 of shutout hockey, while amassing six wins, a .969 save percentage and an impressive 0.50 goals against average, she shone brilliantly.
In the aftermath of such an emotional and inspiring postseason, Taraschuk was recognized on March 6 as the Canada West Female Sports First Star of the Week. In addition, USports Female Athlete of the Week, the third Manitoba female athlete recognized this season, joining the likes of Hailey Lavarias from the soccer team, plus basketball star Nicole Konieczny.
Prior to the opening faceoff at Nationals, Taraschuk would add another well-deserved honor. With USports holding its Awards Ceremony for women’s hockey, Taraschuk earned a spot on the national All-Rookie Team, an accolade that set a positive tone for the tournament to come. As a side note, she was the only competitor from the Canada West Conference to gain a spot on said team.
Taraschuk’s debut in the Nationals was nothing short of brilliant, as she blanked the Queen’s Golden Gaels in the opening round. Needing only 17 saves in a convincing 4-0 win, opposing goaltender Stephanie Pascal, who appeared with the Golden Gaels at the 2017 Nationals faced 23 shots. Courtlyn Oswald (who logged the game-winner), Alanna Sharman, Alexandra Anderson and Lauryn Keen all contributed with goals.
The semi-final game at Nationals would mirror the revered Canada West semi-final versus Saskatchewan. With another hard fought game that went into overtime, it was Taraschuk who displayed veteran-like poise, playing heroically against the Concordia Stingers from Montreal. As a side note, the Stingers featured Lidia Filion, who was the RSEQ Conference Rooke of the Year. Akin to Queen’s, the Stingers had also appeared at the 2017 Nationals, and were looking to build on past successes.
Although the Stingers held the first lead of the game, fellow freshman Lauren Warkentin scored at the 6:55 mark of the second period. As Taraschuk did not allow another goal, including a sterling seven saves in overtime, she was crucial in providing her team with a chance to win. With the pressure of an opportunity to play for a national championship, Taraschuk bravely opposed the Stingers skaters in the shootout. Denying Claudia Dubois and Keriann Schofield with focus and precision, while Jordyn Zacharias and Alanna Sharman scored for the Bisons, the shootout victory may have been the greatest game of Taraschuk’s season. Fittingly, she and Stingers backstop Katherine Purchase were named Player of the Game for their respective teams
For the Bisons, who were making their first appearance at Nationals since 2011, a win or loss would signify their best finish since attaining third place at the 2008 edition of Nationals. Taking on the host team Western Mustangs, a program that has already boasted a national championship, Taraschuk gained her third consecutive tournament start.
Constantly frustrating the Mustangs’ power play unit, Taraschuk continued to prove that she could not only excel under her pressure, but hold her own against the nation’s finest teams. Although the Mustangs emerged more aggressive on offense in the third period, as they outshot the Bisons by an 11-6 mark in the final frame, Taraschuk displayed tremendous poise between the pipes, as the 1,600 fans on-hand were witnessing the Bisons’ rise to prominence, usurping the balance of power in university hockey, while possibly laying the foundation for a dynasty to emerge.
Goals from Tournament MVP Lauryn Keen and Venla Hovi, who also earned a bronze medal with her native Finland at the 2018 Winter Games, secured the first national championship for Bisons’ women’s hockey and the 44th national sporting title in the proud history of the University of Manitoba. For Taraschuk, who achieved the very rare feat of winning a national championship game, via shutout no less, as a freshman, was reminiscent of Alex Rigsby capturing a Frozen Four in her freshman campaign with Wisconsin in 2011. Taking into account that Rigsby would later skate for her national team, Taraschuk may emulate her legacy, potentially guarding Canada’s crease in the Winter Universiade.
“Winning the National Championship as a freshman, by shutout, is something I will never forget. As a team, we worked so hard all season and this was our main goal from day one.
In London, I went into each game as if it were any other game and the only thing on my mind was to stay calm and focused on giving my team a chance to take home gold.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Jeff and Tara Miller, ZJP Photography