Tanner Nagel shines in debut, Cougars start 2020 in winning fashion
Former Swift Current Bronco leads Cougars to first sweep of the season
2019 was not a good year for the Cougars men’s hockey. In the calendar year from Jan. 1, 2019 to Jan. 1, 2020, the team won just three of twenty-eight games. Unsurprisingly, the team is last place in Canada West, with just two wins so far in the season against UBC and Manitoba. However, despite this poor stat line, the team has shown flashes of brilliance. In fact, in their last two games of 2019, the Cougars picked up a point against the dominant Calgary Dinos, taking them all the way to a shootout before coming up just a little short. The good news continued for the Cougars during the Christmas Holidays when they signed 2018 WHL champion and former Swift Current Broncos Captain Tanner Nagel.
Slotting into the line-up on Jan. 3 in the Cougars first game of 2020, Nagel made an impact immediately. After allowing a single goal in the first period at the hands of Pronghorn’s sniper Luke Coleman, the Cougars struck back hard in the second. Nagel found the back of the net for his first U Sports goal in his first U Sports game eight minutes into the frame off a feed from D-man Tyler King. He then set up Connor Chaulk for another just two minutes later. Tyler Adams and Arthur Miller potted two more to give the Cougars a 4-1 victory. Brandon Holtby was solid in net for the Cougars, needing to stop just 11 shots as the Cougars’ dominant pressure generated 31.
Sunday afternoon brought more of the same for the Green and Gold. Afternoon games can be sluggish, but this one was anything but. Both teams came out fast and hard, but it was the Cougars who struck first. Nagel set up Chaulk again just two minutes into the first frame and the Cougars kept on pushing despite hard pressure from the Pronghorns. Scott Mickoski scored his first goal as a Cougar and third-year Ben Duperreault added two more. Brandon Holtby faced a lot more rubber in this one but was lights-out, stopping 35 of 36. Lethbridge was able to get one back in third, but it was too little too late and the Cougars picked up their first sweep of the season. For Nagel, the weekend was an incredible start to his U Sports career.
“I feel like the guys came out this weekend well prepared and excited to get back on the ice. We played with a lot of energy and it was awesome to see and be a part of.”
Nagel also impressed himself with his individual performance.
“As for myself I’m happy with my first couple games, and I want to continue to build off it and do what I can to help the team.”
The twenty-one-year-old right winger from Mossbank, Saskatchewan played four seasons in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks, Lethbridge Hurricanes, and Swift Current Broncos. With the Broncos, Nagel was part of the 2017-2018 WHL championship roster and played in the Memorial Cup in Regina. For Nagel, U of R was a great choice for varsity hockey because it is close to home.
“One of the biggest reasons I chose the U of R was that it is close to home. My hometown is only an hour and a half away. I also have a lot of friends that attend the school. I also knew a lot of the guys on the team from over the years, so it is always nice to have some familiar faces.”
When asked about the challenges going from Major Junior to varsity, for Nagel, school will be the biggest adjustment.
“I’m sure once school starts and I have to juggle both hockey and class that will be the biggest adjustment for me.”
On the ice however, Nagel has needed no adjustment, recording three points in his first two games. During his last season in Swift Current, Nagel captained the Broncos and contributed 13 goals and 10 assists for 23 points in his 65 games with the team. Nagel’s scoring potential has already helped the Cougars who are desperately in need of offensive threats, as they are last in Canada West in goals-for with just 38. However, Nagel echoes Cougars captain Tristan Frei’s stance earlier in the year to take the season step by step.
“I think we are going to build off this weekend and learn from mistakes and continue to figure out what is going to make us successful down the road. We did a lot of good things this weekend and I’m sure we will continue to improve”
The Cougars will need to improve, but after the series sweep are looking far closer to their goal of playoff hockey than they have been all season. While they remain last place in Canada West with a 4-12-2 record, after this weekend’s action they are just two points behind sixth place UBC and a Canada West playoff spot. The Cougars will have a chance to claw their way back just next weekend, as the Thunderbirds come to Regina to play the new-look Cougars. In their last meeting in Vancouver, the teams split 1-1, so the Cougars will look to extend their winning streak to 4-0 against the slumping UBC.
For Nagel, this game will be a great opportunity to continue his foray into U Sports Hockey.
“I haven’t seen them play yet so it’s hard to comment to much on them. That being said if we play with as much energy next weekend as we did this weekend it’s going to be a good couple games and I’m looking forward to it.”
While 2019 wasn’t good for the Cougars, in 2020 things are looking up. Their star offensive players Tristan Frei and Connor Chaulk are heating up at the right time, climbing the U-Sports rankings with 9 and 10 points respectively. Netminder Brandon Holtby continues to play lights out, seemingly getting better every week. Despite facing the most shots-per-game of any netminder, Holtby is posting the third best save percentage in Canada-West with a 0.915. All season long, he has needed just a little more help up front and now he has it, with the addition of impact goal scorer Tanner Nagel. With just 10 games left in the season there is no time to waste, but if the beginning of 2020 is any indicator, it’s going to be a hell of a lot better than 2019. The Cougars next hit the ice Jan. 10 and 11 at home.