Crowchild Classic 2020 hits the back of the net

Calgary’s university athletes thrill on ice

The annual Crowchild Classic hockey doubleheader is Calgary’s largest celebration of university sports ― possibly even the country’s. For eight years, the two schools ― separated by less than 10 kilometres of the major city thoroughfare Crowchild Trail ― have held an unofficial season-long tournament pitting each of their women’s and men’s soccer, volleyball, basketball and hockey teams against each other.

Heading in to Jan. 30, the series stood at five wins for MRU and six for UCalgary. The Cougars’ women’s volleyball team has two wins, with men’s volleyball, men’s soccer and men’s hockey each with one.

The men’s and women’s hockey showdown at the Scotiabank Saddledome is easily the Classic’s most popular event, setting an all-time U Sports attendance record in 2016 of 12,859.

2020 saw the seat count hit 10,002. For the first time ever the women’s team played the late game, having always been the opening act for this “crosstown smackdown.” From 2020 on, however, the women’s and men’s sides will switch game times annually.

It was the first Crowchild Classic for MRU president Tim Rahilly, who said, “It’s amazing. The crowd is outstanding and the enthusiasm is like nothing I’ve seen before. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for both teams.” He added that none of it could happen without the generosity of the Flames Foundation.

“This is a wonderful way for MRU students, staff and alumni to celebrate MRU school spirit and live our ‘You Belong Here’ brand.”

Men’s game — Overtime again

In four out of the last five years the men's game has gone into double overtime. This year the Cougars emerged victorious. 

The stands filled up fast for the Cougars’ men’s early game, who are locked in for the Canada West conference playoffs in fourth place.

The two teams are always close rivals, with games often being decided by a single goal and the overall Classic record at a tie of 4-4 before the night.

When the Dinos and the Cougars last faced each other back in November, the Cougars picked up the first win with a 5-4 decision, only to see the Dinos respond with their own a 4-3 win. Last year their Classic game was decided by one goal (2-1 for UCalgary). Unbelievably, the three years prior went into double overtime before the winner was decided.

The Cougars headed in to Thursday’s game on a four-game winning streak after a great weekend thumping the Lethbridge Pronghorns twice.

The game started off with the Cougars managing to kill off three penalties in the first 20 minutes to end the first period scoreless.

To get the goal-scoring action started in the second period, the Cougars’ Chris Gerrie netted the first point of the game, assisted by rookie Connor Blake, with only three seconds left in their second power play. The action was fast and physical, with eight penalties racked up even before the halfway point. Then Hunter Zandee waltzed into the Dinos’ zone practically untouched to put a beautiful goal up top, putting the Cougars two points ahead. Zandee was assisted by Blake again, who then decided to go right ahead and score a goal of his own for a personal three-point game and to put the team ahead 3-0 by the end of the second.

After what could have been either a pep talk or a scolding in the dressing room during the second break, the Dinos’ Mitch Cook scored quickly into the third period. They then scored again while on what announcers called a “dubious” power play, with the Dinos’ James Shearer putting one in the back of the net to make it a one-point game.

The Dinos took a five-minute major to give the Cougars a good chance of building their lead again, but MRU goalie Riley Morris was caught out of position, allowing Coda Gordon of the Dinos to score another and tie the game.

As history repeats itself, the game would not be over yet. The Cougars’ Sean Richards banged one in with only four minutes left for his 18th point of the season, only to be answered three-and-a-half minutes later by the Dinos’ Kaden Elder to send the teams into overtime once again with a score of 4-4. Six out of the last eight games of the Crowchild Classic have gone into double overtime for the men, making this one of the most exciting matchups of the hockey season.

The first five-minute overtime period of cautious four-on-four hockey went scoreless. The teams each went down a player to three-on-three for the second overtime, with players looking visibly tired. A shootout seemed to be on the horizon.

But it was to be the Cougars’ year. Ryley Lindgren earned the title of game hero by scoring the winner, assisted by Keegan Iverson, to earn the Cougars two more points.

Team captain Tyson Helgesen came off the ice exhausted but elated.

“It was wild. Being up 3-0, then for them to make it 3-3, and then tie it up again. It was a hard-fought battle all night long,” Helgesen said. “We’re going to enjoy this win for now, then tomorrow when we wake up it’s a new game and a new day.”

MRU finished it off with a 5-4 final score. Both the men and the women will face off again tonight.

Women’s game — Setting the standard

The Mount Royal Cougars women's team headlined the 2020 Crowchild Classic.

The 10,002 attendance number for the women’s game set an official U Sports record for women’s ice hockey, bringing more attention to the calibre and quality of these athletes.

Before the game MRU was holding firm in fifth place in Canada West after splitting the weekend against the Lethbridge Pronghorns, who are nipping at their heels in the standings. The Cougars are battling to remain in the top six for a trip to the playoffs. They headed into the Classic with a record of 10-13-1-0 for the year, the obvious underdogs against second-place UCalgary with a record of 14-7-1-2.

The Dinos started off the scoring with a smart goal by Rebecca Clark in the first period. Mount Royal took the first penalty of the game, as well as the second, but managed to kill off both without another goal being scored.

The second period started with the Cougars looking for a few more quality scoring chances. The history between the two teams is the Cougars’ often way outshooting their opponents, however the Dinos’ veteran goalie Kelsey Roberts is very difficult to slip a puck past. Classy hockey was played by both sides, with the play moving back and forth until the Dinos’ Elizabeth Lang scored to open up a two-goal lead. A scary moment saw Cougars’ player Andrea Sanderson leave the ice limping, which seemed to fire up her teammates. Nicolette Seper decided enough was enough and managed to deke out Roberts to get the first goal of the game for the Cougars.

With five minutes left in the third period, the Cougars took an unfortunate penalty, weakening their chances of coming back to tie. Brooke Dennet of the Dinos took advantage of the opportunity to net their third goal off the night, restoring their two-goal lead. An empty-netter sealed the deal for a 4-1 finish.

Captain Daria O’Neill was disappointed with the finish, but pleased with the turnout. When hearing about the record-setting attendance she said, “That’s awesome. The first time getting the late game was pretty exciting for us.”

Playing in front of such a crowd was “nerve-wracking” at first, she said, but the crowd helped to build a lot of momentum in the game. “You hear the student body cheering for you and it helps a lot.”

For the second game of the series today, it’s time to rest and reset, O’Neill said. “We have to focus on our habits and come back better.”

$5,000 tuition winner

Hailey Wilson is new to MRU and looking forward to getting to know the University better.

During the second intermission of the women’s game a cutthroat game of beer pong volleyball decided the winner of $5,000 to go towards tuition at Mount Royal. Emerging victorious this year was Hailey Wilson, who is in her first semester of open studies with hopes of moving into the Bachelor of Science program. Her dream is to eventually go into pathology.

“Honestly, my first impression of Mount Royal has been great. I love the community, I love the energy. I just love the passion behind everything.”

With regards to the prize money, Wilson said, “It will help tremendously, just to support me and allow me to comfortably be a part of the whole educational program and immerse myself properly in my studies.”

The final result …

With a win by the men and a loss by the women, the two teams remain one apart in the Crowchild Classic series. The Cougars sit at six wins and the Dinos at seven. The two schools will face each other six more times. The Cougars men and women hockey teams play again today at Father David Bauer and the Flames Community Arenas, respectively, then the tournament rounds up with two men’s and two women’s basketball games.

Bragging rights are mainly what's at stake, plus a massive “medal.” The 68-kilogram cast-iron City of Calgary manhole cover, donated by Trojan Industries, has been with UCalgary since the Classic’s inception in 2012. It symbolizes the rugged road between the two schools, which takes a serious beating each year while also being of stalwart service to the city, much like the MRU and UCalgary athletes are for each of their home schools.

The Mount Royal Cougars have never managed to take possession of the medal, with their best result being a tie during the 2014/2015 season. If the Cougars can maintain their Jan. 30 momentum, this year they have a very good chance of changing this history. It’s more than possible the Dinos’ streak could be over.

Special thanks goes to the Flames Foundation and all attendees. The total amount raised from the $5 admission fee will be used for student wellness initiatives at both institutions.

Jan. 31, 2020 — Michelle Bodnar

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