Mount Royal teams ready to pounce
by Blaine Meller
September means two things at Mount Royal: classes are back in session and Cougars are on the prowl. Or soon will be. With the new school year comes the start of the 2010- 11 Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) season and the goals and dreams that come alongside. This issue will take an opening look into the women’s and men’s hockey and basketball teams with volleyball, soc- cer, golf and badminton to follow in future issues.
After winning the ACAC Championship last season, there is one obvious question facing the Cougars this year: What are they planning for an encore? “We expect to win every year,” said head coach Scott Rivett. With only 10 players returning from last season, re- peating could be a challenge. Rivett is confident though, citing a crop of rookies that have looked “impressive” and a team that wants to continually learn and improve.
“The players know they have to hold themselves ac- countable, and everybody needs to buy in. They know they have to push every day in order to improve,” he said. The current version of the Cougars, according to Rivett, will be defined by a strong work ethic, a desire to compete with and without the puck and energy on the ice and in the dressing room. He said players are willing to “get in the trenches” and play a third- or fourth-line role if asked to.
With so many new faces on the team this season, there will be challenges, especially for those players who have not competed at this level before, something that is not lost on the coach. Players will have to buy into Rivett’s system and messages quickly. “In a lot of ways it will be easier said than done. We can’t have one good game, then one bad game. They need to realize they have to play at the highest level each at every time we’re on the ice,” he said.
One of the additional challenges facing rookies is the transition between living at home and living on their own, and having to fend for themselves, often for the first time. This is where the coaching staff, as well as senior players on the team, will act as mentors.
“For some of the younger players this is going to be a big adjustment. A lot of first-year players might be away from home for the first time, and they have to cook and clean for themselves and have to learn how to be re- sponsible for themselves as adults,” he said.
The Cougars open their home schedule Oct. 16 against NAIT, 7:45 p.m. at the Flames Community Arenas.
After falling short of their playoff goals last season, the Cougars are ready to put past mistakes behind them, according to head coach Jean Laforest. “We didn’t meet our own expectations in the playoffs. We didn’t peak when we needed to, and that was our own doing,” he said. “We set pressure a little high at the end of the season and played tight as a result.”
Laforest said the team has addressed some “short- comings” from last year, adding more size and depth on defence through recruiting. He also said the team will have more of a blue-collar mentality this season. The Cougars could have 11 returning players from the team that captured ACAC bronze last season, one in goal, four defence and six forwards. There are five players with Western Hockey League experience, and the bulk of the recruiting was done through the B.C. Hockey League.
Laforest’s expectations for the team are simple; he ex- pects the players to practice hard, play hard and study hard. His goals are a different animal altogether. “Goals are always a precarious exercise because there are always things you can’t control,” he said. “I know the standard answer is we want to win, and we do.”
Laforest will measure team goals and performance using four-game cycles. He will also be looking at what makes past championship teams, such at SAIT in 2009- 10, successful.
“We’re going to look at the benchmark teams have set. We finished off last regular season with games against lower teams, then had a bye weekend. We didn’t have momentum, we didn’t peak and we really didn’t have anything to push us. That’s a function of the mental side of the game,” he said.
That shouldn’t be a problem this year, as the Cougars close out the regular season against cross-town rivals SAIT. “We want to be pushed. I really hope it means some- thing as far as standings or home ice advantage.” The Cougars open their home season Oct. 15, 7:30 p.m. against NAIT at Flames Community Arenas. Until then, Laforest knows there are still battles for roster spots to be contested.
“There are a couple of players who have not solidified their spots yet. The players who are on the bubble know they are. This is about who is able to perform, compete and can best put our game plan into action.”
Here’s a pseudo-math question: What do you get when you add size, strength and a little more experience? The answer is a “genuinely very excited” head coach. “Physically we’re bigger and stronger than last year, plus we have a really strong competitive nature. I think we keep getting better and better,” said head coach Joe Enevoldson.
Having that extra size and strength will be a benefit when it comes to implementing a game plan that fo- cuses on defence and rebounding. Enevoldson said the team will rely mainly on ball control and their posses- sion game, rather than running-and-gunning.
With only four players returning from last season, new blood needed to be found and has been in seven freshmen and five players that have transferred from the CIS and CCAA. With that, Enevoldson said it’s im- portant that the coaching staff and players are on the same page right from the get-go. Enevoldson refers not to goals, but to “team commitments,” ones that can be evaluated daily.
“Only one team can win a national championship, so we want to stress to our players that commitment leads to a greater cause. I am very confident in the direction we’re going,” he said. “If we take care of and commit to defence and rebounding, the rest will take care of itself.”
Mount Royal opens its home season Oct. 22, 6 p.m. against Medicine Hat. Although SAIT was the runaway team last year, Enevoldson expects the entire ACAC to be deep in talent and competition. Having said that, he likes the Cougars’ chances. “This is potentially the best team I’ve seen since I’ve been here. We’ve had a bit of a philosophical change, but it’s allowed us to bring in some depth and get that much better,” he said.
Two seasons ago, the Cougars men’s basketball team was on top of the world, capturing both the ACAC and CCAA championship. Last year was a different story. Although the team reached the final four in the ACAC playoff picture, there were no medals to be had.
“It really was just that close. A lot of things had to go right for us and just didn’t,” said head coach Marc Dobell. “We lost some role players from 2008-09, and I think we lost a little of our passion to compete.” This year is shaping up to be different. Dobell said players worked out a lot harder in the off-season, the team has a lot of depth and loves to compete. He said players need to realize that what they do today deter- mines the outcome of tomorrow.
That attitude and commitment could prove to be big this season, as Dobell feels the ACAC will be tough this year, with four teams having a realistic shot of winning the conference. He likes the potential in his squad, say- ing that this team may have the most depth and talent it has possessed in the past three of four seasons.
“I think we’re going to have decent size. We are go- ing to be a team that shoots well and is proactive on offence in terms of ball control and controlling the op- position dribble,” he said. As the team prepares for its home opener Oct. 22, 8 p.m. against Medicine Hat, Dobell said he will be look- ing at a number of areas both in practice and the pre- season, including team chemistry, which develops in practice and is challenged in games.
“It’s how you play and react to the unfamiliar. You can be a really good practice player and not react well in game situations and vice versa. But I think we have a really good group here,” he said. “The challenge is to make sure we continue to grow as a team and to stay motivated. It can be tough to stay hungry if you are only playing four minutes a night and not 40, but we want these guys to realize the value in those minutes.
“That four minutes could be the difference between winning and losing.”