The 2018-19 Canada West men's hockey season starts this Friday for the Mount Royal Cougars on home ice. After reaching the semi-finals for the fourth consecutive season the Cougars are looking to battle with the top teams and perhaps go farther than they ever have gone before.
Last year the Cougars started slow, in part due to injuries, losing their first three games and sitting with a record of 6-9-1 at the winter break. Coach Bert Gilling and his team regrouped and came flying out of the gates after the break and won their first five games back and ultimately clinched the final playoff spot. In the quarterfinals, the Cougars took down the Manitoba Bisons in three games which earned them a rematch with the very same Golden Bears who defeated them in the opening weekend with a combined score of 12-1. After an intense battle which included a 4-3 OT loss, the Cougars were swept by the eventual national champions.
It was a very up and down season and Connor Rankin would be the first to admit that. "Last year we didn't meet our expectations as a team," said the 2016-17 Canada West leading scorer. "We want to be a relevant team in the league and compete for a CW Championship. We had a lot of new players that stepped up last season and it was good to see them taking a big role in their first year. We need everyone to do the same thing this year and take a big step."
Connor Rankin will be looking to bounce back after an injury-plagued 2017-18 season that included a post-season surgery. Bert Gilling identified Rankin as a player to watch this season. "When healthy he is among
the top skilled players and finishers in the league" explained Gilling, "He will be a welcome re-addition to the team when he returns to the lineup."
Director of Scouting and Recruitment, Donald Godreau had a busy offseason as evident by all new faces donning the blue and grey. Former Spokane Chiefs captain Tyson Helgesen, SJHL champion and Nipawin Hawks Captain Brandan Arnold, and reigning CJHL Goaltender of the year Riley Morris will add a youthful exuberance to the team. They will look to impress in their rookie seasons.
Overall though the team didn't lose many players and according to senior Grant Baker the team is looking strong. "I think we have a faster more skilled team this year as well we didn't lose too many guys from last year so hopefully we can take our experience from last to better ourselves this year" explained Baker. "On paper, we have a much deeper lineup and it will all be dependent on our commitment to Cougar hockey and being more consistent."
The season will begin with the battle of the Cougars, as Regina come to town to play your boys in blue. The home opener is this Friday, September 28; the puck drops at 7:00 PM and the two sides play again on Saturday, September 29 at 3:00 PM.