Dan Khavkin, Cougars Athletics
CALGARY- The Mount Royal University Cougars opened their 2019 calendar year with a 5-2 win at home against visiting UBC Thunderbirds Friday night at the Flames Community Arenas.
MRU head coach Bert Gilling commented on the team's performance to start the new year saying, "We showed very well. From a mental standpoint, we were all frustrated at the first half of the season … it's a huge series and we wanted to start off on the right foot."
MRU ended 2018 with four-game point streak, sweeping Lethbridge while splitting against Regina meanwhile UBC, had their five-game winning streak snapped by the 'Horns in OT to end their 2018.
In the first half of the season, UBC swept Mount Royal but the Cougars are now halfway through redeeming that set of losses.
"It's big. It was great to have UBC right off the break. We got swept by them last time and we repaid them a bit tonight but tomorrow they are going to be better than they were and we know that" Gilling continued.
A scoreless and fast-paced first period saw the Cougars press the T-Birds' defence to the brink of collapse had net-minder Rylan Toth not been able to answer the calls.
Toth stopped a second-minute in-close chance from Jamal Watson to start the game in one of nine Cougar shots. Late in the frame, he shut the door on Cougar forward Connor Rankin who couldn't solve the second-year goalie one-on-one. Toth stopped 23 on the night.
Riley Morris stood at attention when he was needed and stopped the only two pucks sent his way in the first period but the heavy late push from the Birds saw Morris stand up to 17 shots on his way to the win.
The MRU offence came alive in the second frame as three goals just 3:26 apart secured the two points the Cougars needed to bridge the gap in the league standings as both teams had 20 points.
Rankin redeemed his missed chance from the first and buried a one-timer at 5:56 to break the deadlock. After linemate Watson took hold of a UBC turnover on the blueline, he smoothly glided the puck onto Rankin's wheelhouse who blasted his effort from the top of the right faceoff circle for his team-leading fifth goal of the season.
Moments on and in a 35-second span, Ryley Lindgren found the top of the netting on two consecutive shots. After heavy pressure, the puck landed on a waiting Lindgren who waltzed into the top of the slot and wired a shot just over Toth's glove hand. The next shift, he found an open pocket of ice and one-timed his second straight shot into the back of the net.
UBC got on the board courtesy of Austin Vetterl who wired a perfectly placed shot into the top corner and over the glove of Morris on just UBC'S seventh shot of the game at 17:11.
Two empty net tallies credited to Chris Gerrie and Jesse Lees iced the game for the Cougars but 'Birds' forward Chase Clayton shovelled the puck in at 19:12, which finished the scoring on the night, as the Cougars would win 5-2.
The rubber match returns to the FCA at 3 p.m.