Cougar Corner: MRU athletics off and running
By Dan Khavkin, Sports Editor
Mount Royal’s men’s hockey squad opens its 2019-20 Canada West campaign hoping to build off of last year’s success.
“I think our group is excited to get the season started. We have only seen two teams in the pre-season, the [Calgary] Dinos and the [Lethbridge] Pronghorns. This will be a good barometer to see how we match up against oneof the perennial contenders,” saidCougars head coach Bert Gilling.
Last year, the Cougars finished 12-11-5 on the regular season before beating out the UBC Thunderbirds in three games during the quarter-finals round.
MRU reached the final-four for the fifth straight year but lost in the Canada West semi- final. But with a strong crew on the roster from last year, and a strong recruiting season, MRU seems poised for success after sweeping powerhouse Saskatchewan 5-4 and 7-2 last weekend. MRU hauled in their first-ever national champion in Nic Sicoly, the graduated captain of the NAHL Robertson Cup-winning Aberdeen Wings.
Other high-calibre recruits for the season include Tri-City Americans captain Nolan Yaremko, one-time Hitmen and Calgary Flames rookie camp invitee Andrew Fyten, Seattle Thunderbird Sean Richards and Grand Prairie Storm captain Connor Blake. After red-shirting last year due to serving time in the pros, Keegan Iverson will suit up in the navy and white.
Iverson carried the load with a six-point weekend (1G, 5A) in his debut weekend.
Ex-Victoria Grizzlies netminder Kurtis Chapman is the lone goalie in this year’s recruitment class and will have a shot to ght for the back-up slot with Kootenay Ice goaltender Wyatt Ho in.
MRU’s women’s hockey squad wrapped up a successful pre-season against the Dinos ahead of the Canada West opener against the Huskies at Flames Community Arenas. The Cougars own a 3-1-1 record through exhibition play. They opened play with a 1-1 tie with the Saskatchewan Huskies before winning two straight against the Manitoba Bisons on home-ice.
MRU split a weekend set against the Alberta Pandas, picking up a 2-1 overtime win with 2.2 seconds left on the clock before dropping the rubber match in Edmonton 4-1.
The Cougars host the Dinos for their final pre-season game before the season begins on Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. at the FCA against the Huskies.
The boys in blue representing MRU are sitting pretty atop the Prairie Division with a 8-2-0 record at the scheduled reset.
MRU was ranked in the U Sports top 10 for the first time since 2016, earning the No. 10 ranking.
“All the teams grow throughout the season. Rosters become less variable because starting spots are more secure. Second games against teams are more challenging, and they become more fine-edged,” said Mount Royal head coach Ryan Gyaki.
“We have consistent performances all season long from our guys which allows guys like Dane [Domic] and Mo [El- Gandour] show us their magic. The magic in the back is just as vital … the fighting spirit to keep the zero is commendable,” Gyaki said.
El-Gandour contributed to all three MRU goals with two tallies and an assist during a 3-1 victory over the MacEwan Griffins Saturday afternoon during Calgary’s first snowstorm.
He leads the Cougars with seven goals and holds two assists to his name which leads the scoring race.
MRU also holds the best defensive stats, allowing a Canada West-low seven goals against.
Sophomore goalkeeper Kyran Valley is third among goalies with three clean-sheets to his name that goes along with an eighth-best save percentage of .724, allowing eight goals on 21 shots so far.
MRU held off a MacEwan Griffins squad inside the first major snowstorm to grace Calgary this year with a 3-1 win on Saturday, Sept. 28.
“These guys work hard regardless of what the table says. Every game is difficult in this league. The numbers are deceiving … We just focus on having shots go in,” said Gyaki.
Mount Royal is still on the hunt.
It’s not quite time to hit the panic button for the winless Cougars women’s soccer squad, but the schedule reset would seem to be the opportune time to turn the tide of the season.
The Cougars look to build off picking up their first point of the season last weekend and look to pick up their first win of the season with seven matches left in the season if they want to reach playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.
The 0-5-2 MRU women’s squad have only Prairie Division competition to be played.
MRU drew the Alberta Pandas 1-1 before the men’s game, playing in similar cold winter conditions late in September and had their Sunday matchup against MacEwan also be moved to a future date.