Men’s hockey looks to turn momentum around
By Dan Khavkin, Sports Editor
Mount Royal Cougars men’s hockey team is having early season struggles, but head coach Bert Gilling believes the team will get back to “Cougar hockey” standards.
At this point last year, MRU held a 5-3 record and were near the top of the Canada West conference.
This season has an expected slow start with such a revamped roster from top to bottom with 10 new players on top of the losses from last years magical squad who lost in the semi-final of the Canada West playoffs.
Gilling notes, “It’s been frustrating, I can’t say it wasn’t anticipated with so many new players and with what we lost in terms of leadership and quality of student-athlete”
MRU pantheon and last season’s captain Matt Brown played his final season last year, capping off a legendary Cougar career. Cam Maclise finished his career and is currently playing in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Manitoba Moose while Emerson Hrynyk is playing in the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) for the Dundee Stars.
“I hate using the term rebuilding, I don’t want us to take a step back. We achieved and earned so much at the level of Cougar Hockey, I don’t want to take a step back from that. We’ve shown growth but it’s been a grind so far.” said Gilling.
Sitting at 3-4-1, the Cougars are gripping onto the final playoff spot with a huge home-and-home series coming up against rivals University of Calgary Dinos who are four points ahead.
The team can’t avoid the injury bug which keeps bothering coach Gilling as the coaching staff needs to find cohesion and gelling as fast as possible.
“We haven’t been clicking on all cylinders yet, if you look at our history at my time here, I am hopeful and optimistic that this year can be the year where ‘Don’t look at us now but evaluate us in the second half of the year’ because the last three years, we’ve come out like a house on fire and leveled off towards the end of the year,” Gilling states.
As of Nov 6., the Cougars highlight recruit Ryley Lindgren, broke his finger and has a pin currently inside his hand and is out for at least two more weeks. Sophomore Connor Rankin has been out with a lower body injury. Forward Luke Simpson was out last week in the weekend of the Manitoba sweep. Rookie Allan MacPherson was out last weekend with a sickness while defenceman Madison Smiley just played his first game against the Bisons.
Gilling notes that the return of Lindgren will have a big impact on the squad.
“(Lindgren) reminds me of a Tyler Fiddler type of player and I think he’ll have a Tyler Fiddler kind of impact for us. He’s figuring out the level and got derailed by the injury, once he gets off his injury he’ll put a big impact on the league.”
Fourth-year Jaime King was unanimously voted for captain by his teammates to lead the charge after Brown’s departure.
Coach Gilling gives his new captain full confidence and support.
“He’s got all the respect of his peers in the locker room, he embodied all four of the Cougar hockey pillars. Them being pride in academic achievement, commitment to off ice training, performance based execution and selfless service to the community and the team…as guys do the nomination they keep that stuff in the back of their mind.”
Being one of a handful of veterans left, King’s leadership is playing a huge factor on the new recruits.
“We’re very young and very inexperienced, half our team are first year players here at Mount Royal and I think it’s really nice for the room to have that stable presence in our leadership,”
Just about a third into the season, there is still plenty of time left for the men’s hockey team to meet the expectations of “Cougar Hockey.”
“I am cautiously optimistic this year that it’s going to be the reverse. We’ll take the ups and downs early in the season as we figure everything out. In the second half, I am hoping we’ll find the chemistry and the groove and play where we are expected.”
Goaltending isn’t a problem for the Cougars but it hasn’t been the team’s solution so far this year.
“They’re all Canada West quality goaltenders who have proven they can play in this league but no one has stepped up yet.”
“It’s been a revolving door for us and I say that unfortunately, we want a consistent level of goaltending, no one has taken the ball and ran with it. It started last year and it seeped into this year. It’s been pretty good but it’s not on a level we need on a consistent basis…we need the rock of our back-end to be the goaltender.”
After the two Crowchild Classic games, MRU travels to B.C. to face the UBC Thunderbirds, who are directly in the mix for the middle spots in Canada West. Later on, the Cougars host powerhouse University of Saskatchewan Huskies to close November out and reach the halfway point of the season.