By David Song, February 3 2017 —
For the Dinos men’s hockey team, the 2017 Crowchild Classic on Feb. 2 was truly a classic. They matched the Mount Royal University Cougars shot for shot, goal for goal and check for check all night. But it took until the second period of three-on-three overtime for the Dinos to vanquish the rival Cougars, ultimately taking the game 5–4.
“Two points we desperately needed, for sure,” Dinos head coach Mark Howell said of the win. “We didn’t start very well. I thought we were flat-footed and didn’t skate very hard in the first. As the game went on we played a little quicker and we found a way.”
After early chances by both teams, the Cougars grabbed the lead at 5:53 in the first period. MRU forward Matthew Brown powered past Dinos goalie Steven Stanford and put the puck through the five-hole. The Dinos responded when first-year defenceman Jared Hauf beat MRU netminder Colin Cooper with a wrist shot from the high slot. Less than a minute later, Jamal Watson answered for Mount Royal, tipping in a power play goal after a Dinos penalty.
The Cougars took the 2–1 lead into the first intermission and scored again at 5:10 of the second period. David Stephens powered to the net and tucked the puck past Stanford’s outstretched leg for a two-goal lead. But the Dinos quickly regrouped. Fifth-year forward Dylan Walchuk cut the lead to one at 12:24, deflecting his shot off a Cougar into the net. Fourth-year Adam Kambeitz struck big on the power play in the last minute of the second period, tying the game 3–3.
“I think a big part of it was leadership by example,” Hauf said of the Dinos’ resurgence in the second frame. “We’re fortunate to have good leaders on this team and when we were down, those [veterans] really stepped up and paved the way for us.”
Both teams traded chances and power plays in the opening minutes of the third period. The Dinos broke through on a five-on-three power play at 14:38. After Cougars forward Zack Henry was penalized for a hit to the head, Elgin Pearce buried a cross-ice feed from Cain Franson to give the Dinos their first lead of the game.
But Dinos forward Logan Fisher took an ill-timed holding penalty minutes later at 16:44, giving the Cougars a golden opportunity. Despite a strong effort from the Dinos penalty kill, the Cougars pulled their goalie and former Calgary Hitman Connor Rankin beat Stanford with a one-timer at the side of the net to bring the game to overtime.
Tied at 4–4, the rival squads would trade chances during the first overtime period. Four-on-four would solve nothing, setting the stage for a three-on-three double-overtime thriller.
“It was a bit of a roller coaster ride,” fifth-year Dinos forward and Hitmen alumnus Danny Gayle said. “I’m really proud of our teammates. Our captains did a great job keeping everyone calm on the bench. Even when we got down 3–1, there was no quit in our team.”
Gayle would prove to be the hero in what was most likely his final game at the Saddledome. He followed up a two-on-one rush by Kambeitz and Dylan Busenius less than a minute into the second overtime. After multiple chances by his linemates, Gayle slammed the puck into an open net on a backwards shot to bring the score to 5–4 and give the Dinos the victory. Overcome by emotion, he dove towards his teammates and was mobbed at centre ice.
“I think we actually got a lucky break there,” Gayle said. “The [Cougars forward] ended up breaking his stick, so we were able to break out pretty easily. I saw Adam make a nice play towards the net and I just thought I’d follow it up. When you get to three-on-three, you have to take some risks if you want to win. For whatever reason, Adam bounced [the puck] right to me and I was able to bury it.”
As a first-year athlete, Hauf said his first Crowchild Classic experience was special.
“Guys tell you what it’s like but it’s completely different playing in the game,” he said. “I had family here and friends. Being from Calgary, I had a lot of support out. It was a ton of fun.”