The Cougars end 2017 with a loss as they are swept by the Golden Bears

The Cougars end 2017 with a loss as they are swept by the Golden Bears

Connor Hood, Golden Bears Hockey

EDMONTON - Completing one of the best first halves in Canada West men's hockey history, the University of Alberta Golden Bears earned their 15th win of the season before the Winter Break for the first time since 2004/2005. The Bears scored twice late in the third period to defeat the visiting Mount Royal Cougars 4-2, Saturday night at Clare Drake Arena.

The 2004/2005 Golden Bears were the last team to win as many as the current Bears have before Christmas, and went on to a 24-3-1 record, their fifth-straight Canada West Championship, and the first of back-to-back national championships. The 2017/18 Golden Bears lead Canada West with their now 15-1-0 record, and entered Saturday a full three points ahead of the Saskatchewan Huskies for tops in the conference.

Cole Sanford, Graeme Craig, Steven Owre and Riley Kieser all scored for Alberta, who also earned the season sweep of Mount Royal after two wins to start the season. Rookie netminder Zach Sawchenko made 19 stops on 21 Cougar shots to earn his eighth win of the season (8-1-0).

Freshmen Brad Kennedy and Morgan Zulinick scored for the Cougars in defeat, who fall to 6-8-2 after back-to-back losses to Alberta.

Despite having lost all three meetings to the Golden Bears entering Saturday's game, including a 3-1 loss the previous night, the Cougars built off a strong showing from Friday night's game, and carried it into the rubber match on Saturday. Kennedy's tally nine minutes into the first period opened the scoring for the Cougars, who scored the game's first goal against Alberta for the first time this season.

The 1-0 MRU lead didn't last until the intermission, however, as Sanford replied with a powerplay goal of his own in the final two minutes of the first. The sophomore Bear was able to steep into a loose puck at the point, and wire a shot past Cougar starter Cam Lanigan.

MRU was able to restore their lead late in the second with their second PP goal of the night. Zulinick beat Sawchenko for his third of the season, giving MRU a 2-1 lead. Again, the Bears responded on the PP, this time just two minutes after the MRU tally. Craig was able to smack in a loose puck on the side of the Cougar crease, leveling the game with the fourth PP goal of the night.

The powerplay continued to be effective for Alberta in the third, as they scored their third goal on the man advantage midway through the third. Owre took a nice feed inside from Dylan Bredo, who then quickly snapped a shot past Lanigan from in tight. Sawchenko, who hadn't faced a ton of Cougar shots up until the third, was steady in the final frame, stopping all eight shots he faced.

Kieser sealed the Alberta win with an empty net goal with 1:30 left.

The game was the final conference game for both teams in 2017, with Canada West action resuming on the first weekend of January.