Cougars feeding off special teams
by Blaine MellerGoing into the 2010-11 season, Jean Laforest, head coach of the Cougars men’s hockey team, was cautiously optimistic. Fourteen new bodies on the team meant he would be preaching his message to a new audience, but it was a challenge he welcomed. The team was young, but found added size and depth on defense and seemed receptive to what Laforest was teaching. Ten games into the season, it appears the message is being received. The Cougars currently sit in first place in the ACAC and looking at the numbers, it’s easy to see why: they have allowed the fewest goals against, they’re third in scoring, and they have the second best power-play and the top ranked penalty killing unit.
“Special teams have definitely been a strong point with us so far. I hope it continues,” Laforest said. The Cougars’ penalty killing deserves a lot of credit for the team’s 7-1-2 record (at press time). Mount Royal is the second- most penalized team in the ACAC, yet they have a success rate of 90 per cent while shorthanded. In 10 games this season, Mount Royal has amassed 308 penalty minutes, second only to SAIT’s 359. Oddly enough, the teams sit first and second in league standings, respectively. “It’s nice to know not all of our strengths are in just one area,” Laforest said. “What the power play does is allow for timely goals, both for and against. We know we’re going to get put into the (penalty) box. “It’s a matter of taking advantage of your opportunities and limiting your opponents on theirs.”
Goaltenders Dan Spence and Justin Cote have also contributed to the Cougars’ strong start. Spence is second in the league with 1.71 goals against average and a .923 save percentage, while Cote is third with 1.76 goals against average and .927 save percentage. Combined, the Cougars’ goalies have surrendered only 17 goals in 10 games. Laforest says his team is lucky to have this goaltending duo. “They bring two different profiles,” he said. “Dan brings a lot of Western Hockey League experience and Justin was all-conference. They have both been really solid.” After 10 games, the coaching staff has relevant statistics to help set goals and judge performance.
This will allow the team to set more concrete goals than they could earlier in the season. Laforest said the danger in setting specific goals before the season, or too early in the season— something he has done in past years — is that they can be unrealistic, or in some cases, too easy to achieve. Still, he knows the Cougars will have to continue their strong play on defense and special teams to be successful the remainder of the season. The Cougars host SAIT Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m., followed by back-to-back home dates against Briercrest Nov. 26 and 27 at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. respectively.