What’s the problem with men’s hockey?

Chaulk leads Cougars despite rough start. U of R photography

With a 2-9 record, Cougars are limping more than prowling

The Cougars men’s hockey team has not been good in 2019-2020. They are 2-9, last place in Canada West, and have an abysmal goal differential of -36. This week they had the toughest draw of the season, playing against the juggernaut University of Alberta Golden Bears, a team who has lost only one game in 2019. Unsurprisingly, they got swept 2-0, but that is far from the whole story. On Friday, the Cougars gave the Golden Bears a tough test, pushing them to the edge. The team’s leaders stepped up with Connor Chaulk getting one in the first and scoring leader Tristan Frei bringing the game within one in the third, only to end up giving up a late goal to lose 2-4. On Saturday the Cougars imploded, giving up nine uncontested goals, their worst performance of the season.  Second-year forward Chaulk spoke to the polarizing weekend.

“On Friday’s game we played really well. We came out and showed them that we can compete with those top teams when we want to. With Saturday’s game, it shows us that if we take games off against teams like that, they are going to slam it down our throats.”

So, what do the Cougars need to do to be better?

The first step is offence. The Cougars simply do not score enough goals to win. The team has scored only 23 goals in 12 games, averaging less than 2 goals per game. This is compared to league leaders Alberta, Mount Royal, and Saskatchewan who score 4.75, 4.66 and 3.75 goals per game respectively. While the Cougars are far below the standard, they are also below the possible threshold they need to win games. With only 1.91 goals per game, the Cougars need to allow less than that on average to win, which is near an impossibility. Only one goalie in U SPORTS allows less than 1.91 goals per game, and that is Matt Berlin who backstops the utterly dominant Golden Bears. This means that to win hockey games, the Cougars need Brandon Holtby to steal them. Fortunately, this is certainly something he is capable of.

Like his counterpart on the women’s team, Jane Kish, starting goaltender Brandon Holtby has been absolutely fantastic. Despite facing almost 32 shots per game, the second most in Canada West, Holtby allows only 2.83 goals per game, good for fifth in the league. However, his underlying numbers are even better. Holtby’s 0.915 save percentage is second in the league. The Cougars have the goaltending support to win games with lower than average production, but 1.91 goals for per game is simply not enough. For Chaulk, he is a huge part of the team’s success.

“Holts has been phenomenal for us, every game he’s played in we’ve lost by one or won, I can’t say enough about him.”

On the other side of it, Chaulk appreciates the need to increase production beyond that 1.91 goal average, something he says starts with the day to day.

“It is a tough league to get points in, especially when we aren’t getting 30 shots a night, getting 20-25. I think we need to start directing a few more pucks to the net. It has to do a lot with the mental side of the game. It all starts in practice.”

The Cougars next test is another tough one. They play their biggest rivals, the third place University of Saskatchewan Huskies at home Nov. 22-23 at the Co-operators. For Chaulk, his outlook is still positive, despite the tough start.

“This is going to be a huge weekend for us. We believe that we are playing good hockey right now. We just have to keep going in the right direction, there’s no reason we can’t get a couple points against U of S.”

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