By Sonny Sachdeva, January 21 2016 —
In front of a raucous crowd of 12,859 at the Saddledome for Jan. 21’s Crowchild Classic, the University of Calgary Dinos and Mount Royal University Cougars men’s hockey teams put on a performance for the ages.
The attendance numbers easily eclipsed last year’s 8,882, breaking the all-time record for most spectators at a game between any two CIS clubs — a mark that had stood since 1968.
Those present certainly weren’t disappointed, as the Dinos and Cougars put forth a skilful back-and-forth display that included two overtime periods.
Neither team managed to break through in the opening period, despite each mounting some spectacular chances. However, it was the Dinos that built up the most momentum over the first period — earning a pair of promising powerplay opportunities and wiring a dangerous shot off the crossbar in the final minute of play.
The U of C successfully built off that momentum to break the deadlock early in the second period. Forward Max Ross buried the leading goal, pulling a toe-drag by a Cougars defender before slipping the puck past Mount Royal netminder Cam Lanigan.
Mount Royal, however, kept pushing forward. The Cougars finished the period outshooting the Dinos 20–13.
Midway through the third period, Mount Royal capitalized on those opportunities. Just minutes after Dinos goaltender Steven Stanford came up with a brilliant glove save to preserve the lead, Cougars forward Matt Bellerive levelled out the score with just over seven minutes left.
The two clubs remained tied at the end of regulation, prompting a period of 4-on-4 overtime. While the Cougars continued to test Stanford, he kept his team in the game and extended the contest into a second overtime period — this time consisting of 3-on-3 action.
The U of C finally earned a shot at clinching the victory in the final overtime segment when a brutal high-sticking infraction from Mount Royal captain Matthew Brown gave the Dinos a four-minute powerplay.
Three and a half minutes into the double-overtime stretch, and with the powerplay winding down to its final moments, Cain Franson put the puck on net as Ross crashed the crease. The latter forward picked up the rebound and roofed the game-winner off his backhand, netting his second goal of the night.
It was undoubtedly a memorable moment for Ross, especially given the size of the record-breaking crowd.
“It’s really cool,” Ross said after the victory. “We’ve all played here before, but not in front of however many thousands of students were here. It was nice to see all the people in red.”
While the theatrics of the Crowchild Classic made the win all the more meaningful, the victory also earns the Dinos a much-needed pair of points as they fight for a playoff spot.
“I think the guys have been a little bit down,” Ross said. “We’re not used to being in this position, so it’s nice to have a little bit of excitement going into a game.”
Ross’ team certainly delivered on that excitement. Dinos head coach Mark Howell was pleased with the victory, even if the game seemed up for grabs at times.
“I thought we had moments where we were real good and moments where we made the game hard on us,” Howell said. “At the end of the day, it’s an emotional game, so you find a way to get two points — and we need two points right now. Our guys gutted it out and found a way.”
While many of the Dinos have now played in numerous Crowchild Classics at the Saddledome, the lustre of the event has yet to fade.
“The players love the game,” Howell said. “It’s the fourth time they’ve played in it, and it’s an important game. They all know when it is. Every year it’s gotten better and better — from 4,500 to 9,000 to now 14,000. It can be distracting, but I thought our guys played real well.”
With the 2–1 victory, the Dinos record improves to 8–9–4. They’ll face the Cougars again on Jan. 22 at Father David Bauer Arena for the second instalment of the Crowchild Classic series.