Pat on the back, slap on the ass

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You wanted a pump-up column, I’ll give you a pump-up column

Autumn McDowell
Sports Editor

With a new name on their roster, and players improving with every stride, the University of Regina men’s hockey team could very well be the team to watch for in 2012.

So far this season, the Cougars have easily gotten the award for most improved, but that just isn’t good enough for them. In their collective mind, it seems, being the most improved is just one step up from getting the participation award, and that simply won’t do.

Although the Cougars currently sit in second-last place in Canada West (4-10-2), second last also means they are in sole possession of a playoff spot – something the team missed out on last year – but even that isn’t good enough.

In order to get the recognition they deserve, the Cougars are going to have to work extra hard in the last half of the season and fight hard for every point they can get, but with the personnel they have in their dressing room that shouldn’t be a problem.

The one knock on the Cougars has always been their youth, but that doesn’t seem to be slowing them down anytime soon, In fact, the uncanny amount of rookies seem to be adjusting to the CIS way of things quite nicely.

Lucas Gore seems to have found a permanent home for himself as the starting goalie for the Cougars, but newcomer Andrew Hayes may have other ideas. Hayes, who recently returned from a pro stint with the ECHL’s Alaska Aces, has enrolled in classes for the winter semester at the U of R, thus making him officially eligible to suit up with the Cougars in January. Friendly competition between these two talented goaltenders will not only improve their skills but benefit the team as well.

Leading the way for young forwards, Tyler Henry will look to continue his scoring touch in the New Year; he currently leads all rookie Cougars in scoring with three goals and eight assists in 16 games. Rookie defencemen John Sonntag and Mark Schneider are getting lots of minutes for the Cougars, which is clearly helping them progress; fans can literally see their game improve every time they step onto the ice.

If the rookies weren’t enough to convince fans that the men’s hockey team is worth the $12 that non-students have to shell out to see them play, then how about the sophomores.

In the past few years the Cougars have been without a go-to goal scorer, but Matt Strueby seems to have taken ownership of that title this year. Midway through the season, Strueby has more than tripled his goal total and surpassed his point total from last season. He may have been known around The Dub as “the garbage man,” but the goals he has been putting in the net this year have been pure beauties.

Another player that deserves more credit that he gets s Captain Russ Nielsen. In his fourth season with the team, Nielsen has already put more points on the board than any of his previous seasons. His double-overtime winner against the Lethbridge Pronghorns on Nov. 19 could not have gone to a more deserving player, and could easily be his highlight of the year.

Veteran forwards Ryan Sawka and Terrance Delaronde have both been battling injuries over the past few months, and the Christmas break could not have come at a better time for them. If a healthy 2012 is in the cards for both of these players, there is no telling what the team can accomplish.

Despite missing the last six games, Delaronde remains the teams third-highest point getter with 11 points in 10 games. If Delaronde can come back strong from his injury and develop chemistry with Strueby, it could be a lethal combination for any goalie to deal with.

Fans should take every opportunity they can to see the Cougars in action, as they are sure to have a breakout year in 2012. The first chance to take in the action is this weekend, when the Manitoba Bisons are in town. The puck drops at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the Co-operators Centre.

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