Jeff Sargeant, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The Mount Royal Cougars came back from a second period deficit, scoring the final four goals in a 5-2 victory to defeat the UBC Thunderbirds in the third and deciding game of the Canada West quarter-final series Sunday night at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
With the win, the Cougars advance to the semifinals for the fifth straight season where they'll face the first-seeded Saskatchewan Huskies next weekend in Saskatoon.
"I'm proud of our guys, we played the right way, we had a game plan coming in, we tried to keep it pretty simple," said Mount Royal head coach Bert Gilling. "I thought our guys were really committed tonight, we had some compelled efforts, some key saves from our goaltender when we needed it and we got it done."
After Mount Royal opened scoring for the third straight game, the T-Birds answered back with two goals in less than two minutes to take a 2-1 lead through the opening 20 minutes.
But after generating serious momentum in the second half of the first period, the T-Birds couldn't sustain it in the second. The Cougars tied the game 3:15 into the middle frame with Ryley Lindgren's second of the series. After Colton Kroeker won a defensive zone faceoff, Lindgren grabbed the puck and rushed all the way up ice, beating Rylan Toth stick side.
The Cougars then re-took the lead on what stood up as the eventual game winner just over five minutes later when Kord Pankewicz wristed the puck from the slot, through traffic and past a screened Toth. The goal capped off over a minute of pressure in the T-Birds' zone with UBC unable to clear.
UBC faced an uphill battle, down a goal in the third, but the 'Birds managed only four shots in the final frame while the Cougars got empty netters from Brad Kennedy and Connor Chartier.
Mount Royal outshot the T-Birds 29-23 in a game that saw just one power play which was awarded to the Cougars with just 15 seconds left.
The loss sees the 'Birds' season end in a third game on home ice in a quarter-final for the second straight season while the Cougars earn their second series win over UBC in the last four years.
Sunday also marked the final game in blue and gold for seven graduating Thunderbirds in Adam Rossignol, Michael Stenerson, Chase Clayton, Devan Fafard, Riley Guenther, Raymond Grewal, and Josh Connolly.
Rossignol scored his final goal as a Thunderbird at the 17:28 mark of the first period, giving UBC the lead after captain Jerret Smith tied the game at one less than two minutes earlier.
Rossignol finished the series with three points as did Tyler Sandhu who was held off the scoresheet despite several grade A scoring chances, robbed on multiple occasions by Riley Morris who earned his first Canada West series win.
"This win was huge for our program," added Gilling. "We've got confidence right now, we got pretty good health. We really look forward to the challenge."
The Cougars will begin their best-of-three semifinal Friday night at Saskatoon's Merlis Belsher Place with the winner advancing to the league final and earning a berth in the U SPORTS national championship hosted by the Lethbridge Pronghorns in mid-March.
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds