Bye week breakdown
Cougars head to Manitoba for reading week
As the Cougar basketball teams begin their 2019-2020 campaigns, volleyball and hockey take their bye weeks after a fast and furious start to the new campaign. For hockey, the first break marks almost one third of the season, and a good time to look at where the teams are trending heading toward the new-year and the ultimate goal of Canada West playoffs.
The women’s hockey team is 2-6 in their first eight games of the season and are currently last place in Canada West. While the team graduated leading scorer Emma Waldenberger, they maintain a good chunk of their starters from last season, including captain Jaycee Magwood. Last year, the Cougars opened 4-4, so they are short of the pace that was set in 2019-2020. Magwood leads the team with five points in her first eight games and is tied for second place in Canada West with five goals. In spite of her individual success, for the captain, the season opener has been far from perfect.
“I think that there is definitely room for improvement with our group. We have had a couple good comeback games, but I think that we will need to be more consistent with our game play moving forward.”
Despite the slow start, it is not time to hit the panic button just yet. There are still 20 games left in the season, and while the team is in last place for now, they are only three wins behind third place. For Magwood, although the need to win is immediate, she thinks her team can still make a big push toward Canada West playoffs.
“With our season being so short, we will need to be a more consistent group and really push to get as many points in a weekend that we can. The league is usually very close so we will need to focus on finishing on the chances we get and doing what we can to keep the puck out of our net.”
With the bye week this week, the Cougar women will have a chance to get more rest than they have yet this season. Especially after a travel loaded pre-season. For Magwood, this might be the break the team needs to get back into the hunt.
“We have played some tough teams to start the year so I think the bye week will definitely help our team moving forward. We have been able to focus on some of the smaller details in our game this past week and it is nice to be able to rest and refocus going into Manitoba next weekend.”
Part of this push has to come from the top of the roster, and this is something Magwood takes upon her own shoulders.
“I have had many great leaders in the past and I have learned a lot from them. This year we have a pretty young team, so I think that it is especially important for the leaders on our team to help set the standards in the dressing room but also lead with their game play on the ice.”
The Cougar men’s hockey team has struggled perennially. The team has finished last in each of the last four seasons, and their last playoff berth was in 2012-2013. This year’s roster looked to break that trend, playing close games against the dominant Dinos and Huskies in the preseason. However, so far, the results have instead been more of the same. The team sits with a 1-7 record for last in Canada West, with their only win coming against the UBC Thunderbirds.
Although their start to 2019-2020 is on par with abominable seasons of the past, the team has showed some signs of change early in the season. Against Lethbridge the team scored four unanswered goals in the third period to bring the game into contention but ended up losing 7-5. They have shown the ability to play periods of hockey on par with the best of Canada West but have been unable to put many full games together.
Goaltending has also been another strength for the Cougars. Despite facing 147 shots, many of them quality chances, Braden Holtby has allowed only 14 goals against, good for a .905 save percentage. Backup Curtis Meger also has a respectable .839, with both games he came in being against dominant opponents. Should the team in front of them be able to minimize chances, these are goalies who could steal some games for the Cougars.
The major issue for the Cougars is their offence. Although the scoring depth is there, with nine different Cougars scoring in the first eight games, the team is lacking production on the top end. Leading scorer Connor Chaulk paces the team with five points but is far outside of the Canada West top 20. Second-year Tanner Campbell leads the team with three goals, already ahead of his season total of two from last year. If more Cougars can find their offensive touch then it will help a team that is badly lacking. The team’s 15 goals are still 6 behind next to last UBC and Lethbridge.
Coming off of the bye week the team will play fifth-ranked Manitoba, a team they beat in the preseason. This is a great opportunity for the Cougars to pick up their first 2-0 weekend and get back into the playoff hunt as they are only two wins behind sixth place Lethbridge.
Women’s volleyball is another team who has struggled early on compared to 2018-2019. In a long preseason, the young team went 1-11, a far cry from the 8-4 record they posted in 2018-2019. Part of this comes from the team filling a lot of holes. The Cougars lost a few key pieces from last year’s roster including Taylor Ungar, and athlete of the year Satomi Togawa. The regular season opened slightly better than the pre-season, with the Cougars splitting 1-1 against UBC Okanagan, but the team proceeded to get swept 0-2 by MacEwan the next weekend. Even worse, both losses came 0-3. For Emma Matheson, although the start hasn’t been perfect, her outlook remains positive.
“We had a strong start to the season with a win over UBCO and have found things we need to work on in every game. We are a developing team and we are working on consistency of performance and emotions which has been improving in every game. Otherwise, we are doing a good job at finding ways to work through adversity and are making improvements every day.”
While it is good to improve and stay positive, that doesn’t always get you into the win column, something Matheson understands well.
“Our goal for the next two games is to come out with two wins against Manitoba. We are looking to be more aggressive all around, but especially with our serving and attacking. By being aggressive and following our game plan we will have a huge opportunity against this team.”
Like the other Cougar teams, volleyball has been going non-stop since mid-September, so the bye-week brings a welcomed rest. However, for Matheson, the bye-week also represents a great opportunity to get some quality practice time in.
“We have been competing since our pre-season started in September and have a long season to go, so it is great to have time to recharge and rest our bodies. It also gives us a bit more time to work on ourselves in practice as well as time to work on our game plan against the opposition.”
Part of this practice is continuing to adjust to the new roster and learning to fill the holes left by graduations. For Matheson, team environment plays a big role in getting over that hump.
“Although we had some graduating players, we are still keeping our goals high. The transition has been pretty smooth because we have a great team dynamic off the court, which makes things on the court that much better.”
The Cougars will have to continue improving if they want to add upon a great 2018-2019 season, where the team went all the way to the Canada West quarterfinals, posting a dominant 16-8 record along the way.
All three of these Cougar teams are in action Nov. 8 and 9 against the University of Manitoba Bisons. The women’s hockey team will make the trek to Winnipeg, while volleyball and men’s hockey will defend the CKHS in Regina.