MRU hockey preview
Can the men continue their success?
By Daniel Khavkin, Contributor
The Mount Royal Cougars Men’s Hockey team enters their 5th year of CIS hockey, and will once again try to make a run at the national championship. The Cougars lost nine players from last season’s squad, where Mount Royal finished with their best final record in their very young CIS history, going 17-8-3. The Cougars recruited nine players to replace those who have either graduated or moved on with their careers; such as notables like: Cody Cartier, Tyler Fiddler, and filled their roster spots with:
4 WHL players including
•Goaltender Wyatt Hoflin: who played four years in between the pipes for the Kootenay Ice.
•Jamal Watson, a Calgary native who played in the AAA ranks in Calgary and has five years of experience in the WHL, being named captain of the Lethbridge Hurricanes in 2014-2015 before being an assistant captain for Seattle.
•Colton Waltz, who was a veteran player for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, and was an assistant captain for his last three years before being traded to the Blades and even suited up for an AHL game for the Oilers affiliate once last year.
•Jesse Lees, yet another Calgary native who played among the AAA here in Calgary, spent 5 years in the WHL, and was an assistant captain his last two seasons for the Prince Albert Raiders.
2 NCAA Div 1
•Canmore native Luke Simpson, who is also coming home. After playing a year for the University of Minnesota Duluth, Simpson has made the decision to join the Cougars for the 2016-17 season.
•Airdrie native Madison Smiley, who played his whole junior career in the AJHL, transitioning to the NCAA ranks for two seasons before being recruited by Mount Royal.
•Dominic Thom, a Calgary native who played AAA in the city before becoming a nomad throughout his junior career, bouncing from the AJHL to the WHL and finally to the BCHL before getting recruited.
With 2 full WHL season under his belt, Taylor Greene played his last 3 years in the BCHL before joining Mount Royal.
•No stranger to the Cougars, Devin Gannon returns after a year abroad playing pro for Ammes of the French League before deciding to return back to Calgary.
The men are currently in pre-season action before the CIS season begins on October 14th. In two tune up games thus far the Cougars have beaten both Alberta Rivals; crushing the Dinos 5-2 and then doing the same to the Golden Bears, beating them 4-2. Next up is a trip south of the border into Colorado where the Cougars will face the NCAA Frozen Four semi-finalist Denver Pioneers, who have seven national championships in the books, with the most recent one coming in 2005. The Pioneers have made an appearance in the final tournament every year since 2008. The Cougars will also take on the Colorado College Tigers, the weakest team in the NCHC conference under the guidance of former Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Haviland, who won the Stanley Cup back in 2010. Mount Royal will finish off their trip against Air Force College, who’s bench boss Frank Serratore will take part in his 20th year. Air Force was conference champions in five out of six years from 2007-2012.
Looking at the numbers, the Men’s hockey program at Mount Royal has gotten better every year since their inaugural season in 2012. The Cougars have been achieving new point totals each year, starting with 16 before following it up with years of 25, 35, and last year’s total of 37. They’ve also scored more goals in each season, starting off with 72 in year one and reaching 80, 84, and then last year’s high of 100.. Ever since Head Coach Bert Gilling took over the reins in 2014, the Cougars’ team defense also improved only allowing 73 and 75 goals a season compared to the two season prior where the totals were 114 and 111. Losing Cartier and Fiddler will be a huge loss, but Nathan Higgins, Director of Operations for the team, did a great job picking the best out of the recruiting lot and the pre-season team looks stellar. The weekend trip will be a good test against strong teams such as Denver who’ve made four national championship appearances. The final match-up against Air Force could go either way, like any hockey game at this level, and it will be interesting to see how the Cougars fare against such a structured team.
Mount Royal’s season opener will be against the Manitoba Bisons, who’ve had a pretty easy pre-season facing favourable matchups such as Canada West’s last ranked Regina Cougars and the University of Jamestown Jimmies: whom the Bisons routed 6-0 and 9-0. The Bison’s, however, beat Canada West’s top ranked University of Saskatchewan Huskies and lost to the University of Calgary Dinos and will soon face the NCAA champions North Dakota before finishing the pre-season against Lakehead.. The Bisons themselves finished tied for 4th place with the Dinos last season.
If the Cougars fare well against the American teams, this will give them confidence coming into the CIS season where again Mount Royal will look to break their records in points, goals, and goals against. With many additions and losses to the roster it will be interesting to see if the new look Cougars will gel with coach Gilling’s system as he looks to put the Mount Royal hockey program in an even better spot than the successful year prior.