Jeff Sargeant, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The Mount Royal Cougars struck first in the Canada West quarter-final earning a 4-2 win over the host UBC Thunderbirds Friday night at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
The Cougars scored once in each of the first two periods and twice in the final frame while Riley Morris made 17 saves for his first career playoff victory.
"We were just slow processing the game, our legs looked tired and slow and we just didn't get our feet going," said UBC head coach Sven Butenschon. "Mount Royal is tight defensively, they block so many shots, they protect the middle of the ice really well. We need to have that kind of mentality in our own zone."
Mount Royal dominated the opening period and if not for a rock solid performance by Rylan Toth between UBC's pipes, the deficit would have likely been much larger than a single goal.
The Cougars opened scoring 8:02 into the first when Ryley Lindgren got sprung on a late breakaway by Connor Chartier, beating Toth glove side.
MRU doubled their lead with seven-and-a-half to go in the second, just six seconds into their first power play of the game. Right after a Gerrie face off win, Jamal Watson passed the puck back to Kord Pankewicz who wristed the puck from the high slot, through traffic and into the back of the net.
The Cougars outshot the 'Birds 25-12 through 40 minutes and continued to out-chance UBC and looked to be in firm control of the series opener.
That was until the early stages of the third where the T-Birds came out more inspired, drawing their third power play of the game. Just ten seconds into the advantage, Tyler Sandhu shot the puck from the right circle, hitting Morris in the shoulder, bouncing off defenceman Tyson Helgeson and into the net for the second-year T-Birds' fourth career power play goal.
After pulling within a goal, the 'Birds appeared to have some new life, holding the pace of play for the following five or six minutes, until the Cougars restored their two-goal lead against the flow. Toth denied Watson in tight with one of his best saves on the night, but Mount Royal retained possession and Helgeson passed the puck from the left wing boards to Gerrie in the low slot who perfectly deflected it for his first of the playoffs.
David Stephens put the icing on the cake for the Cougars hitting the empty net with just ten seconds left. Maxwell James earned his first Canada West playoff goal on a wicked release with just one second remaining, but it was too little too late for the 'Birds who now face a must-win scenario in game two Saturday night.
The 'Birds finished the game 1-for-4 on the power play and MRU went 1-for-2. Toth made 28 saves in the loss.
"He was rock solid, he stood back there like a wall, we just couldn't get a few goals for him," Butenschon said of his second-year netminder. "Our backs are against the wall now so hopefully we come out tomorrow with a ton of energy and leave it all on the ice."
Puck drop for game two of the quarter-final is set for 7:30 p.m. PT Saturday at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. Game three, if necessary, is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. PT Sunday.
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds