Split weekend keeps Cougar men in the playoff hunt

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U of R Cougars take a point against Mount Royal. University of Regina Athletics

Men’s hockey trip to Calgary at least partially successful

The Cougar men’s hockey team has been the turn-around story of 2020. After winning just two games in the first 16 games of the season, the men have battled their way back into playoff contention, going 4-1-1 in the last six. This past weekend brought their toughest challenge of the new year, the fourth-place Mount Royal Cougars. A big part of this push has been Tanner Nagel, newcomer from the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos. With five points in his first six games, Nagel has been producing at an elite rate and has seen the improvement in his short time with the Cougars. He says the lack of expectation given the poor start has contributed to their newfound success.

“I think we just have been enjoying it and playing like we have nothing to lose really. Once you get on a little streak of playing good hockey you find things happen a little smoother and the teams been playing good hockey even before Christmas and the break.”

On Friday night, the Cougars played one of their best games of the run thus far. In the first two periods, it was a bloodbath. The Cougars from Calgary looked faster and hungrier, peppering star Regina goaltender Brandon Holtby with 16 shots. Riley Lindgren and Andrew Flyten were able to solve the Regina native, and Josh Bly extended the lead to 3-0 early in the second. Despite this early pressure from Mount Royal, the Cougars avoided falling into their early season pitfalls.

They kept the pressure on Mount Royal and stayed out of the box while doing it. The disciplined Cougars took just one penalty on the night while drawing three of their own. Midway through the second, newcomer Tanner Nagel brought the game within two on a great feed from centre Conner Chaulk. The powerplay then went to work for the Cougars, with Chaulk scoring a goal of his own. Late in the third, again on the powerplay Nagel connected with Arthur Miller to tie the game.

For the second straight game the Cougars went to work in overtime and again were unable to solve the tie in five-on0five Unfortunately, three-on-three overtime brought the opposite result for the Cougars in green as Isaac Schafer’s high sticking penalty proved costly when Connor Blake was able to win it for the home team.

Notably, Holtby continued his all-star season by stopping a tremendous 49 shots to allow the Cougars the opportunity to come back. The first-year starter has been a key to the Cougars recent success where he has looked like the other Holtby, Braden of the Washington Capitals who backstopped the Capitals to a Stanley Cup.

Saturday brought a bit of regression for the Cougars who looked sluggish from the get-go. They showed a bit of jump in the third, but it was too little too late as Mount Royal was able to maintain an early advantage, winning 6-1. Holtby stopped another 45 shots while the Cougars generated just 22 of their own. For newcomer Tanner Nagel, the assessment on the weekend was more of the same.

“I feel like we played really well the first game, obviously didn’t get the result we wanted, but we battled back from being down to force overtime and get a point. The second game we just didn’t quite have the jump we did the first game.”

Nagel is a big reason the Cougars were able to get a point on Friday, exploding for two big points to bring the Cougars back to even. What does he think of his performance so far?

“I’m pretty happy with how I am playing. There’s always room for improvement, but I definitely am happy to be able to help wherever I can.”

Having been a captain in the WHL, Nagel has leadership experience that is valuable when down 3-0 in a must win game, which is something he doesn’t take for granted.

“Ya, I think playing in the WHL has helped me in a lot of situations.”

One of the biggest adaptations for the rookie is a lifestyle one. Going from the heavy hockey schedule of the WHL to the demanding academic schedule of varsity is a big transition. How has Nagel been handling it so far?

“It’s been good. I have been Learning lots and just trying to make the most of it. The lifestyle is different. You are busy all the time and always have those due dates in the back of your mind.”

After their 0-1-1 weekend the Cougars sit seventh in Canada West, just two points behind the UBC Thunderbirds. UBC didn’t do the Cougars any favours on the weekend, as they picked up four points against the Manitoba Bisons. The Cougars will have their chance to retake sixth place with a contest against Manitoba of their own. These games could be season deciding for Regina who close their season against U of A and U of S as they look for their first playoff berth since 2013. For Nagel, despite the mounting pressure, the goal will be to keep doing what’s working.

“I think we just have to keep building off what has made us successful. We have to have a good week of practice and prepare properly. If we play hard and fast like we have been it’s going to be a good weekend.”

The Cougars next home game comes Jan. 31 against the Alberta Golden Bears.

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