By David Song, January 26 2018 —
In recent years, the Crowchild Classic has been just that — a classic, and one of the year’s best games regardless of teams involved. For the third consecutive season, the crosstown men’s hockey showdown between the University of Calgary Dinos and the Mount Royal University Cougars at the Scotiabank Saddledome turned into a double-overtime thriller. And for the third consecutive year, it was the Dinos prevailing in dramatic fashion.
Going into the Jan. 25 tilt with an overall record of 12–17–2, the Dinos desperately needed a win to remain in the playoff race. Defeating the Cougars 6–5 in double overtime was a step in the right direction.
“We just really needed two points,” said head coach Mark Howell after the game. “It wasn’t a masterpiece by us. We started great, then we had some ups and downs, but we needed two points and found a way.”
The Dinos got off to a fast start, outshooting and outskating the Cougars early on. Just over two minutes into the opening period, first-year forward Matt Alfaro was awarded the U of C’s first goal after a lucky bounce off of Cougars defender Clive Rozdeba. Less than five minutes later, fellow freshman forward Tyler Coulter ripped home a wrist shot on a two-on-one rush, giving the Dinos a two-goal lead.
That lead was short-lived, however, as Cougars forward Jamie King put in a loose rebound just 1:07 after Coulter’s goal. The Cougars further tested the Dinos with a pair of power plays, but the Dinos penalty kill held firm.
The Cougars began to grab momentum at the start of the second period, undaunted by their early deficit. At 7:07 of the second frame, Cougars forward Hunter Zandee beat Dinos goalie Matt Greenfield with a wrist shot over the glove, bringing MRU even. The Dinos generated multiple chances throughout the second, including on a power play, but Cougars netminder Cam Lanigan was up to the task. The teams finished the second period tied 2-2, despite the Dinos outshooting their rivals 19–11.
“We strayed away from the game plan,” said Dinos captain Dan Gibb on the second period. “We’re a very good team when we get the puck below the goal line. We use the net and cycle. I think we were trying to be a little too cute, show the fans a little more than we’re used to. MRU’s a good team as well, and if you give them chances, they’re going to make you pay.”
The Cougars took their first lead of the game just 1:05 into the third period, as forward David Stephens snuck a shot past Greenfield to make it 3–2. The Dinos soon found themselves seemingly behind the eight ball as sophomore defenceman Jared Hauf took a double minor for high sticking.
Instead, first-year blueliner Ryan Gagnon joined the rush on a shorthanded opportunity. Rifling home a snapshot from the high slot, he drew the Dinos back even at 4:20 in the third frame.
“Today, it was a gutsy effort by our whole team,” Gagnon said. “You can’t really look at one guy. I think we pulled together and really showed that we’re going to work hard to push for a playoff spot.”
Shortly afterwards, the teams exchanged concurrent minor penalties, Alfaro sent the puck towards the Cougars net as veteran Dinos defender Dryden Dow moved in. Lanigan made one save, but could not reach the rebound as Dow put the Dinos up 4-3 at 14:57.
Once again, that lead evaporated quickly. Seventy-eight seconds later, King notched his second goal of the game, sneaking one past Greenfield. Less than two minutes after that, the Cougars took a 5–4 lead as Tanner Olstad capitalized on an sharp pass from Jamal Watson on a two-on-one rush.
It took the Dinos only 27 seconds to respond as another rookie forward, Ryan Graham, made his presence felt. Lurking in the slot, Graham one-timed a pass from Mitch Cook to make it 5–5, sending the game to overtime.
“The players found a way. They just didn’t quit,” Howell said. “We’ve got to get every two points we can, and the guys just knew they had to find a way, so good on them.”
Both teams traded opportunities in the first overtime period. Lanigan denied Gibb on an excellent offensive shift and the Dinos killed off an Alfaro penalty, continuing to neutralize the Cougars’ power play. Then, 29 seconds into the second overtime, Dinos forward Chris Collins sprung linemate Cain Franson with a pinpoint pass. On a breakaway, Franson would not be denied, snapping a shot through the five hole to cement a 6–5 victory for U of C.
“It was a rollercoaster game for sure,” Franson admitted. “There’s a lot of ice out there. I saw a little window and I was lucky enough that Collins made that great pass.”
Despite the elation of winning a third-consecutive Crowchild Classic in heart-stopping fashion, the Dinos know that more work needs to be done. They face the Cougars again on Friday evening at a time when virtually every game becomes a must-win.
“We are in a do-or-die situation,” Gibb said. “We basically have to run the table if we want a legitimate chance of making the playoffs. Our backs are against the wall, and we don’t have any time to waste. We have to make sure that we’re chomping at the bit at puck drop tomorrow.”
The Dinos and Cougars hit the ice again on Jan. 26 at Father David Bauer Arena. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.