Dan Khavkin, Cougar Athletics
CALGARY- Mount Royal took the lead four times in a back-and-forth affair Friday night and pick up their third win in a row to start the 2018 year against the Lethbridge Pronghorns 5-3 at the Flames Community Arenas. Heading into the Jan. 12 contest, both Mount Royal and Lethbridge were part of a three-way tie in the standings along with UBC with 8-9-1 records. It is shaping up to be a dogfight for the rest of the season for the final playoff spots in Canada West. Both teams also started 2018 on positive notes last weekend as Lethbridge split their first series on the year with the Saskatchewan Huskies, winning the return match while MRU swept Regina on the road with 8-2 and 3-2 wins.
In the first frame, Lethbridge contained Mount Royal's long and wide breakout, holding them captive in their own defensive zone, forcing the Cougars to play tighter in their own zone. As the pace of the game intensified, so did the action. Jesse Lees walked the blue line and put the home-side Cougars on the board at 10:12 netting his fifth goal in three games. Getting a pass from Tanner Olstad, Lees took the chance to find a gap and used the sea of bodies as a screen, wiring a shot above Garret Hughson's head and into the top of the net to give the Cougars the first lead of the game and his eight of the season. Hughson stopped 24 saves on the night.Lethbridge responded not too long after thanks to Ryan Chynoweth who buried a wraparound past Cam Lanigan's short-side at 18:06 to tie the game at 1-1 heading into the first break. Lanigan picked up his sixth win of the year, stopping 24 pucks of his own.
A back-and-forth second period gave the Cougars a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes. The Cougars started the second period on the front foot with a man-advantage capitalized by Connor Rankin. Lees played pitch and catch with partner Kord Pankewicz on a man-advantage, who fed the puck to Rankin inside the bottom of the right face-off circle. Having no passing lane, Rankin released a quick snapshot with authority over the shoulder of Hughson, off the post and in to give the Cougars a 2-1 lead. Less than two minutes later, the Pronghorns tied the game at two. Brooks Maxwell pressed on the Cougars defense and caught the puck off an attempted breakout and sprung himself with Ryon Moser, who tapped in the puck past a lunging Lanigan at 17:28. At 9:17, Taylor Green joined an offensive rush from the back-end and snapped a shot in to give MRU their third lead of the game at 3-2.
Both sides were feisty out of the gate, playing shot-for-shot in the special-teams game. Russel Maxwell had a blocked shot float over the head of Lanigan and bounced over the goal-line for his second of the campaign at 8:50 right as the power play expired. The Cougars landed their own counter-punch, scoring on the power play after Olstad batted in his own rebound inside the crease to give his team their fourth and final lead of the game at 4-3. MRU were 2/4 on the power play while Lethbridge were 0/3. Luke Simpson iced the game on an empty netter with 37 seconds to play. MRU travel down south for the rematch tomorrow night against Lethbridge with puck-drop set at 7 p.m.
Lees commented after the game, "It's always going to be a tough game around here, any team can win on any given night. We gotta go into the same mindset we had today and push for another two points."
"Were finally figuring out the right way to play, it's coming together as a team… that's huge for us."