Previewing the 2024 Crowchild Classic
By Zach Payne, Sports Editor
Most hockey players have a routine they follow before every game. Some players like to get to the rink early, some will spend extra time to triple-check their equipment, test out multiple sticks before the game, things of that nature.
These routines help remind the players that every game has the same mission. It doesn’t matter who the opponent on the other side is. Stick to the game plan, play your brand of hockey, and good things will happen.
That mindset helps players and coaches alike to not let one game sway them. And to not let any one game matter too much.
But sometimes, the games mean a little more. Sometimes there’s more on the line. Sometimes, even regular-season games can carry extra weight.
As both MRU Cougars hockey teams prepare for the Crowchild Classic, there is a level of acceptance among both the men’s and women’s teams that there is a little more weight behind this game.
It’s one game a year in which students from both Mount Royal University, and the University of Calgary (UofC), come together to crowd the Scotiabank Saddledome. The one game that draws the most attention from students cheering on their respective teams. For as much love and support as the student-athletes receive, there’s always a little more in the Crowchild Classic.
The players, as much as they can, will try to approach Wednesday’s games as they would any other. But they also recognize how special the atmosphere is when they take the ice in front of thousands of fans.
“It’s kind of like that once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said second-year forward Connor Bouchard. “The crowd is always standing. I think that’s the biggest difference is usually you cheer for the home team. But in this game, there are two home teams, so everybody’s cheering them on all game, it’s loud the entire time.”
Coming into Wednesday’s game, Bouchard and the rest of the men’s team carry a lot of confidence. Only natural for a team that has won eight straight games since the Christmas break.
According to forward Tristan Zandee, that can be attributed to the team getting back to basics.
“For us, it’s just about keeping things simple. We’re not a flashy team by any means,” he said. “I just think we have to continue to stick to our game and not stray from it.”
The simple yet effective style of play has resulted in the hot streak that has pushed the Cougars into fourth in the Canada West division. They will look to keep their momentum going against the second-place Dinos.
Meanwhile, the women’s team has also enjoyed a ton of success as of late.
Coming off a national championship in 2023, the Cougars have carried that momentum into this season, boasting an overall record of 18-4.
As winners of 10 of their past 11, the women’s team has gotten key contributions from several players across their balanced roster.
“We have a special group that has made it easy to build on our success from last season, and the depth of our lineup has a big part to do with our success,” says fourth-year forward Lyndsey James. Citing the National Championship win as a source of hunger for this year’s team.
As they get set for their own matchup against the UofC’s women’s team, the Cougars are embracing the opportunity to play in front of a bigger crowd.
“I’m definitely a little bit nervous just because I’ve never played in front of the stage like that. But I’m super excited as well,” said first-year defender Summer Fomrades.
She went on to say that she’s heard stories of Crowchild Classic’s past from older teammates. Fomrades was told to expect “a fan base that we’ve never really seen or played in front of … But they said just be there be in the moment and just have fun.”
Indeed it is a crowd that players like Fomrades have never played in front of. Average attendance for Mount Royal hockey games is typically a couple of hundred people. Sometimes more, sometimes less.
Last year’s Crowchild Classic? Over 11,000. Primarily made up of students from the two participating schools. It is quite literally 10 times the crowd that the players are accustomed to.
For as much as the players can and will try to treat this like any other game, the energy from the crowd will no doubt result in more energy on the ice.
The routines leading up to the games might not change, but the significance behind the Crowchild Classic brings an extra element.
The nature of wanting to live up to the moment, to be the one to step up when the lights are the brightest.
And it would mean just a little bit more to the teams if they are able to emerge from the spotlight with a win.