LETHBRIDGE — With seven different players registering points for the home side, and a stellar 35 save performance from Taz Burman, the sixth-place University of Lethbridge Pronghorns power through the fifth-place Mount Royal University Cougars by a score of 6-2, in what was the final regular season game for both teams on Saturday.
With the win, the Pronghorns conclude their sixth-placed regular season campaign with a 9-17-2 record and will travel to Calgary next weekend to face the Calgary Dinos in a best of three quarterfinal series. The loss for the Cougars was a costly one, as the UBC Thunderbirds leapfrogged them for fourth and will host Mount Royal in the other quarterfinal series. The Cougars finish the season with a 12-11-5 record.
As mentioned, Burman turned aside 35 of 37 shots he faced in the win, while Cougars starter Riley Morris allowed five past him on 23 shots, before being relieved of his duties to start the third. Colin Cooper made 14 saves on 15 shots in the period.
Following the pregame ceremony honouring graduating players Artisom Kalashnikov, Blake Orban, Connor Sanvido, and Justin Valentino, both teams would come out flying in search of an early goal to control the game. While the Cougars showed to be the more offensive team early, it was the Pronghorns who struck first.
Lethbridge forward Michael Grant got control of the puck on the far boards in his own zone before rushing down the lane into the offensive zone. Grant forced his way to the Cougars net, along with a crashing Torrin White, and White would put the puck behind Morris to put his side up by one, just shy of the seven-minute mark of period one.
Despite outshooting the Pronghorns by the halfway point of the period, the Cougars were not able to find a break on the attack to counter the early Pronghorn goal. Lethbridge took advantage of their opponent's offensive woes, with Russell Maxwell's initial high slot shot rebounding off of Morris to Brooks Maxwell, who would pot the puck behind Morris for his of the fifth of the season.
Mount Royal continued to press the Lethbridge net throughout the rest of the period, forcing a couple of strong saves from Burman to keep his team's two-goal cushion intact. By the end of the frame, the Cougars outshot the Pronghorns 17- 9.
The second period clearly demonstrated the shift in momentum to be in favour of the Cougars. The Calgary-based team kept the Pronghorns hemmed in their own zone for the majority of the first half of the frame, with the exception of a couple of quality opportunities going the other way for the Pronghorns. Both Morris and Burman made the saves necessary to keep their teams from losing their footing.
Lethbridge began to take control of the momentum nearing the game's halfway point, rushed along by a Cross-Checking penalty to Mount Royal's Colton Bobyk. The Pronghorns forced the penalty killers to collapse in front of Morris, causing a scramble for the puck in the slot. Derek Brown gathered the loose puck and put it on Gross' stick, who tucked the easy goal into the open Cougars net.
Not long after the Pronghorns third goal, Mount Royal began to show a little bit of life, scoring two goals in just over a minute. Bradley Kennedy fed an open David Stephens from near the blue line, and the wide-open Stephens would tuck the puck behind Burman to end the netminder's shutout bid.
Feeling the effects of getting on the board, the Cougars manage to get another one past Burman on a similar play, this time Colton Kroeker feeding Connor Chartie after he slipped behind the Lethbridge defenders, cutting the deficit to one goal.
Despite the strong efforts by the visiting side, Lethbridge would eventually respond with two goals of their own, restoring their three-goal buffer. Right off a faceoff to the right of Morris, Dalton Sward slipped past the centreman to get control of the puck and tuck it past Morris on the far-side.
Just about two minutes after the Pronghorns fourth goal, Derek Brown would beat Colton Bobyk in a race for the puck, eventually cutting behind the defender for position in the slot to wrist the puck past Morris, restoring his team's three goal lead.
A five-goal second period would end with a bit of aggression from both sides, but neither team would be forced to kill a penalty. Heading into the second intermission down by two goals, the Cougars still had the advantage on the shot-clock, with a 32-23 tally. Wyatt Hoflin started in place of Morris for the third.
The final frame began with very little offensive action from either team, with the shot clock only showing a 5-4 Lethbridge advantage at the 10-minute mark, the lowest 10-minute shot totals for either team this game.
At 11:06 of the third frame, the Maxwell cousins teamed up again, this time with help from Derek Brown on the Cougars turnover. Brooks, after getting the puck from Brown, would play a little tic-tac-toe with cousin Russell before roofing it above Hoflin.
The Cougars began to relax defensively throughout the final half of the third, allowing Lethbridge to catch up on the shot clock, marking a 15-5 shots lead in the third-period alone.
Brooks Maxwell's second of the game would be the final tally of the game, helping the Pronghorns take the final game of the regular season.
Both Canada West quarterfinal series will start next Friday night with the Pronghorns taking on the Calgary Dinos at Father David Bauer Arena at 7:00pm. Game two will go Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. and game three if necessary is Sunday, also at 6:00 p.m. The Cougars will have to travel to Vancouver to take the UBC Thunderbirds at 7:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday night with game three starting at 6:00 p.m. if necessary.