Dan Khavkin, Cougar Athletics
CALGARY- With only four games left in the 2017/2018 Canada West season, the Mount Royal Cougars faced their hardest and most vital task of the season to start their final home-stand of the season, hosting a high flying UBC Thunderbirds squad.
MRU needed to pick up two victories and at the least, split the final weekend against the Huskies in Saskatchewan to clinch home-ice advantage for the playoffs.
They failed to do so by dropping a 5-1 decision to the T-Birds Saturday night and are forced to stay in the fight between trailing Calgary and Lethbridge for the final two playoff spots.
The Cougars swept UBC in their first meeting earlier this year on the road, but it was the T-Birds who got their revenge.
A high-flying 'Birds squad carried a six-game win streak heading into the contest and carried that same momentum.
With the win, the 'Birds extend their win-streak to seven.
MRU's losing streak now extends to four heading into a pivotal rematch as Calgary brushed aside bottom Regina, while Manitoba did them a favour by outlasting Lethbridge who are on the tail of the Cougars.
A win tonight would've locked a playoff berth for the Cougars.
Cougar captain Jamie King commented after the game, "We aren't even in a playoff spot yet so even that isn't solidified and we got to make sure we realize this is playoff hockey so every point matters."
"We got to play a lot more desperate then we did tonight,"
UBC scored the first goal of the game on an overly aggressive penalty kill that benefited Raymond Grewel who got sprung by Devan Farfard, sending the third-year defender one-on-one against Cougar net-minder Cam Lanigan, beating the ex-Medicine Hat Tiger with a backhand at 13:33.
Josh Connolly double the T-Bird when he ripped a shot bar-down on a counter-attack with 2:56 left in the frame to give his side a 2-0 lead heading into the break.
Adam Rossignol's power play marker at 7:35 was the only tally in the middle frame, beating Lanigan on a tipped shot for the Thunderbirds' third goal on nine shots.
MRU pulled a goal back early in the third period on Josh Bly's deflected puck from a Kord Pancewicz shot from the point on MRU's fourth power play but UBC answered expeditiously.
Austin Vetterl tapped in a beautiful heads-up slap-pass from Jerret Smith on the man-advantage at 7:03 and just over two minutes later, Nick Buonassisi slipped the puck between the wickets of Lanigan to push the UBC lead to 5-1 and hold on for the win.
WHL graduate of the month Matt Hewitt picked up 23 saves on route to his 11th win of the season.
Special teams were an issue for the Cougars, being 1/8 on the power play and letting in 2/4 goals while short-handed.
"Tomorrow we got to be ready to go and accept these guys are the hottest team in Canada West." King also noted.