By Riley Stovka, October 7 2021—
Regardless if it’s pre-season or regular season, the rivalry between the Dinos and the Mount Royal Cougars men’s hockey teams, is alive and well.
The first of two games played between the clubs, hosted by the Dinos at Winsport Canada Olympic Park, began slowly with the action and tension equally building to a burst.
It started with a boom. At the six minute mark of the first period a Cougars forward crushed a Dino defender along the boards near the home team’s bench. In a flurry, Dinos D-men, Ryan Gagnon and Josh Rieger, jumped to their downed teammates’ defense, inciting a scuffle that resulted in both teams taking offsetting minor penalties for roughing, with the Dinos taking an extra for jumping the Mount Royal attacker.
The Cougars would use their first of many opportunities on special teams to score the first goal of the game. In fact, special teams was an Achilles heel for the Dinos. Three minutes into the second period, the Dinos would take another penalty that ended with the puck in the back of their net. Six minutes would pass before the Dinos would take another minor, this time for elbowing. The Dinos would successfully kill this penalty, but in the ensuing seconds following its end, with tired penalty killers still on the ice, the Cougars snuck a skater between the Dinos defenders and walked in, undefended to score Mount Royal’s third goal of the game.
The Dinos powerplay didn’t fare any better. In their two attempts on the powerplay late in the game, the Dinos failed to capitalize on their chances and couldn’t close the distance between them and the Cougars. The final score ended 4–1 , with the Dinos only goal coming via Jake Gricius, who was on the receiving end of a picture perfect back-door pass from Jaeger White, at the 11:30 mark of the second period.
“Mount Royal did a really good job. They’ve recruited well, they play fast and they play well. We weren’t great […] I thought we kind of backed off,” reminisced Dinos Head Coach Mark Howell after the game. Howell, who’s been behind the Dinos bench since 2009 and has a career record of 181-127, knows exactly what it takes to win in USports hockey, and looked to kickstart his team into a higher gear for game two.
If coach Howell challenged his team to step up and take the action to the Cougars in the second game of the home and away, they took his challenge to heart.
At the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex on the Tsuut’ina Nation, the Dinos got off to an electric start when, eight minutes into the first period, Dions forward Josh Rieger, who had snapped his stick on a failed one-timer attempt and had dashed back to the bench to retrieve a new one, flew into the zone and caught another one-timer, blasting it past the Cougars netminder to make it 1–0 Dinos.
The Dinos would add two more goals by the way of forward Tim Vanstone and defenceman Brendan DeJong, three minutes apart, to quickly make it 3–0 before the seven minute mark of the first period.
What looked like the beginning of a rout slowly began to change as the Cougars found some life towards the end of the first period thanks to a Mount Royal goal that cut the deficit to two. The Dinos penalty killing woes veered its ugly head again in the second, when the Cougars capitalized on a James Shearer tripping call, to make it 3–2. Another dazzling backdoor pass found a Cougars blade, and then the back of the Dinos net to tie the game at the four minute mark of the second period.
The third and final frame of the weekend saw little action. The Dinos and Cougars traded shots, but none of them challenged to score. It was an uncharacteristically quiet period of hockey for two teams that had previously showcased their long-standing bad blood.
Of course, it took a fluke play, a wide drive to the net by Jake Gricius who flicked it towards the net and off the Mount Royal goaltenders back to break the 3–3 stalemate and ice the game for the Dinos, with five minutes left to play.
When asked what accounted for the difference in play from the night before, coach Howell had a simple response.
“I think tonight especially we followed the gameplan a little better, we didn’t chase the game we stayed on top of [it]. We stayed on top of the puck for the most part and we didn’t hunt for things, we just let it come [to us]. Tonight we played a little harder with a bit more bite and jump.”
This pre-season series was a tale of two teams. One that took undisciplined penalties and pushed its ailing penalty kill to its most extreme breaking point. And another with such explosive displays of offensive virtuoso, that the opposition could barely look at the scoreboard before they noticed they were down a handful of goals. But both versions of this Dinos squad have one thing in common — they’re inexperienced.
“We have so many new guys, they’re learning about our team and the league […] just getting to know what Canada West hockey is all about — it’s heavy, it’s hard, it’s fast,” said Howell. “We’re not the biggest team but I think if we can skate and be on top of teams, we’ll create offense that way.”
Sounds like a winning formula to me, coach.
For now the Dinos will look past their pre-season tune up towards the regular season, which for them starts Oct. 15 as they host the University of Manitoba Bisons at the Father David Bauer Arena.