MRU Men’s Hockey set to get over the hump
By Dan Khavkin, Sports Editor
This should be the year.
With five consecutive trips to the Canada West semi-finals teasing Cougars head coach Bert Gilling and his past MRU squads year in and year out, this year is set up to be uncharted territory for the men’s hockey team.
“I think we’ll be fine. It’s just that we need to find our culture and identity again. From where we were the past two years, it’ll take time to build up from that.,” says Gilling.
One major change in the Cougars dressing room, is the addition of a solidified leader in second-year defenceman Tyson Helgesen owns the honour of wearing the ‘C’ on the Cougars crest.
Gilling notes, “He’ll be the strongest leader we had since Matt Brown.”
The Reflector takes a look into what went wong, and right last year for the team and future stars to look for this year.
Last year’s overview:
The Cougars opened the season with two convincing wins against the Regina Cougars before then dropping the next four games against UBC and eventual conference champion Alberta Golden Bears. Picking up two wins against Manitoba on home-ice, the Cougars lost another four straight, this time against conference powerhouses Calgary Dinos and the Saskatchewan Huskies.
The longest win-streak of the season happened with a sweep of the Lethbridge Pronghorns before winning game one against Regina at the scheduled reset.
Failing to sweep Regina after dropping a 2-1 overtime loss, the Cougars went on to a four-game win streak against UBC and sweeping the Manitoba Bisons.
MRU cooled off with a six-game losing skid, against Alberta, Saskatchewan and Calgary.
The Cougars split their regular-season finale against Lethbridge during the final weekend, and failed to clinch home-ice over UBC as the Thunderbirds won 5-2.
Beating out the T-Birds in three games, MRU failed to get over the hump after reaching another semi-final appearance.
What went wrong:
Mount Royal was sixth in penalty kill with a 79.3 per cent, while other playoff teams finished with 80 per cent or higher. This proved costly in playoffs as MRU fell shorthanded 16 times and allowed five goals.
On the man advantage, the Cougars ranked last with an 11.5 per cent score. They scored three times while being up a man 18 times.
What went right:
MRU scored the fourth-highest amount in the regular season and were first outside of the top three with 87 goals in 28 games.
The Cougars allowed 76 goals, and were fourth in the conference and best total outside the top three.
Senior David Stephens carried the load in offence and finished as the team’s leading scorer with 23 points in 28 games. Meanwhile rookie Colton Kroeker tallied six goals and 16 assists, which was second among rookies.
The goaltending question seems to be figured out after Cougars goaltender Riley Morris posted a 10-5-1 record with a .919 save percentage and a 2.55 goals against.
The new guys:
It’s almost all-Alberta recruit class for the 2019/2020 season.
The Cougars recruited goaltender Airdrie native Kurtis Chapman who is coming off an impressive 26-9-1 record with the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies, posting a .933 save percentage and a 2.51 goals against.
On defence, MRU brings in Spirit Lake, Alta native Tri-City Americans captain Nolan Yaremko who put up 122 points in his final 138 games in the WHL.
A physical defenceman in Sean Richards hails from St. Albert and will start the season for the Cougars after serving an eight-game suspension with the Seattle Thunderbirds after spening three years with the Everett Silvertips
Calgary born forward Connor Blake split two seasons with the AJHL’s Calgary Canucks before heading north to the Grand Prairie, putting up 109 points 115 games with the Storm, wearing the ‘C’ prior to MRU.
On the note of leadership, coach Gilling brings in the first ever national champion to Mount Royal with the addition of Sault Ste. Marive, Ont. born Nic Sicoly who lead his Aberdeen Wings to the NAHL title this past spring.
Edmonton Oil Kings graduate and former Calgary Hitmen Centre Andew Fyten, attended a Calgary Flames rookie camp after putting up a career-high 41 points in 60 games between the Swift Current Broncos and the Oil Kings last winter.