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Cougar men’s hockey team struggles to make strides on ice

Martin Weaver
Contributor

Lack of consistency has been a common theme for the University of Regina Cougars men’s hockey team this season and this was evident during their final two home games at the Co-operators Centre last weekend.

The Cougars went into the weekend already eliminated from playoff contention, but had the opportunity to play spoilers in Canada West. They played the fifth-place Lethbridge Pronghorns, who are challenging a number of teams for the fourth and final playoff spot.

Regina won 5-4 on Friday in a hard-fought come-from-behind shootout victory. Brett Leffler scored a goal with 10 seconds remaining in the game to tie things at four and then Matt Strueby buried one in the fourth round of the shootout to solidify the win.

The Cougars carried that momentum into Saturday night’s game and held a 1-0 lead after the first period. Things began to fall apart as the Pronghorns (10-8-5) scored three in the second to take the 3-1 lead. The Cougars were unable to respond and skated to a 4-1 loss.

“That’s been the story of our team,” said Cougars head coach Blaine Sautner on his team’s split. “One night we’re good and the next we turn too many pucks over, therefore playing in our end too much and losing.

“Going in we knew we were not able to make the playoffs, so it’s kind of about playing for pride. The guys played well [on Friday] but the next night it was turnover after turnover, which was kind of disappointing.”

Leffler, a first-year Cougar formerly of the Regina Pats, felt that the team adjusted decently despite being short players.

“I thought we played all right,” he said. “Obviously we have to limit our turnovers and make sure we have a consistent effort day in and day out. I think we did all right with a short lineup.”

Leffler has had some challenges this season adjusting from the WHL to the bigger and more physical pace of the CIS.

“It was a little bit of a transition,” he said. “It’s tougher than I thought. It’s a pretty good league and you can’t take any nights off.”

Seeing as the Cougars field a young roster, many of the players have experienced growing pains like Leffler. He feels that the team will have a good chance in the future as the younger players gain more experience.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys,” he said. “I think it’s a learning curve and next year everyone is going to be that much more prepared. “I don’t think we are going to have as many lapses as this year.”

“It’s promising in the fact that we’re young, but we have some skill and some talent,” added Sautner. “It’s been frustrating, but you have to take it in strides and you can’t get too high and you can’t get too low”.

This season, the men’s hockey team only welcomed back 10 players. Next season, the team could potentially have 21 returnees and be in good shape for the 2011/12 season.

“It’s tough to fill half a team, but I think that were in a position now where the guys we pick up (next season) can really push the guys that are in our lineup,” said Sautner.

The Cougars, who sit lasting the conference at 8-16-2, finish off the season on the road against the Calgary Dinos (13-8-2) this weekend. It might be viewed as a meaningless set of games for Regina, but they can still get something out of it.

“We got to keep pushing and trying to get better,” said Sautner.

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