Dan Khavkin, Cougars Athletics
CALGARY- The Lethbridge Pronghorns took a trip up the highway 2 for the first half of a home-and-home in the final weekend of Canada West regular season action, looking to redeem a sweep at hands of the Mount Royal Cougars from earlier in the season, but instead they fell 5-2 to open the set.
Heading into the final weekend, MRU had dropped 6 in a row, be it against the top three of Canada West, which forced a much tighter race for the final home-position playoff spot against UBC.
MRU scored a much-needed goal that gave them a sigh of relief just three minutes into the contest on the first of two Jesse Lees goals. The defenseman was deep in the 'Horn zone and jammed the puck into the back of the net on the first Cougar shot on goal.
Moments on, rookie Derek Brown almost levelled the score after he was sent in one-on-one against Riley Morris, beating the surprised Cougar goalie but his quick snapshot didn't beat the iron for the best Pronghorn chance in the period.
Morris stopped 26 on the night on route to his 10th win of the season meanwhile his counterpart Garret Hughson stopped 19 on the night.
On seniors night it was a senior's contribution that doubled the Cougar heading into the first break as David Stephens tapped in a Colton Kroeker pass at 18:50 on the power play for his sixth goal of the season.
Stephens along with defenseman Grant Baker, forward Zack Henry and goaltender Colin Cooper were honoured pre-game as the 2019 graduating class of Cougar Hockey.
"It was fun and emotional," Stephens said playing in his final regular season game as a Cougar.
"We were all excited and emotional finishing off what we did the last five years, but we still all got a job to do tomorrow night…biggest thing for us was to get the two points." he concludes.
Lethbridge began to take over the initiative in the second period and controlled play for most of the frame eventually levelling the game at 2-2.
Landon Gross cut the Cougar lead in half, electing to skate up-ice end-to-end before wrapping the puck around the crease and past a seam that Morris couldn't cover for his fifth goal on the year.
Carrying the momentum, the 'Horns kept the pressure on MRU. Lethbridge found themselves on the man-advantage on a rare ineligible-player penalty resulting in the Pronghorns bringing the game level at 14:48. Justin Valentino jammed home the power play marker for goal number nine on the season for him.
"We played with that desperation. We knew we had destiny in our hands and we used that against them. Knowing we needed that killer-mentality gave us the push we needed," said Lees.
He added "We needed that. We knew going into the third period UBC won so we had to bear down."
Mount Royal picked up their pace and took over the third period.
After Connor Rankin roofed the puck just 1:12 into the third period to give his side a 3-2 lead, the momentum swung back the MRU way with the help of Lethbridge's penalty troubles.
Lees wired home a shot for the second time on the night for his ninth goal of the season on the power play at 7:13 .
Brad Kennedy effectively iced the match with his empty-net marker to conclude the dominant MRU third period.
MRU keep their chances of hosting UBC on home-ice alive with their win despite the 5-1 victory the 'Birds picked up tonight against Regina. The Cougars need to match or better the result UBC gets tomorrow night to seal hosting privileges.
Meanwhile, Lethbridge clinched a playoff for the first time since the 2013 season with as Manitoba were mathematically eliminated.
The rubber match swings down to Lethbridge tomorrow night with puck drop set for 7 p.m.