The year of the Dino for the University of Calgary men's hockey team sadly came to an end last weekend at the University Cup in Fredericton, N.B. For the first time in over a decade, the Dinos competed against the top teams in the nation for the University Cup. Hosted 4,500 kilometres away, the tournament had no clear favourite and the Dinos men showed the nation that they were clear contenders.
Their dreams of bringing home the University Cup for the first time, however, fell short after two close Dinos losses, making a clear impression on Canada's top teams that the Dinos are a heavy competitor.
Although the cup was not theirs, the Dinos brought home some honours of their own. For an outstanding season, third-year Dinos goaltender Dustin Butler was named CIS Goaltender of the Year. While Dinos men's hockey head coach Mark Howell was given the honour of Coach of the Year. The awards for the 2010-11 year were given out on Wednesday night during the All-Canadian celebration before the start of the tournament.
Butler, who is the first Calgary goalie to receive this award since the 1992-93 season, set a record for the U of C with a 2.12 goals against average and was ranked first in CW in save percentage at .926.
The Father George Kehoe Memorial Award was presented to Howell for outstanding coaching leadership on and off the bench in just his second year as head coach for the Dinos. He joined the team after coaching Junior A for six years.
The Dino underdogs came out strong in the first game of the cup against the top placed team, the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds. In their previous meeting last September, UNB shattered the Dinos 10-2, but the Dinos gave their competition a lot more to fear in a close match on Mar. 24.
Calgary got into some penalty trouble early on in the second period, which allowed UNB Jordan Clendenning to score the first goal of the game at 3:09 on a two-man advantage. Under a minute later, Calgary tied it at one with a quick dump and chase picked up by Calgary forward Teegan Moore. The rest of the play was dominated by UNB who outshot Calgary 12-4 in the second period, but Butler denied any chances. With six minutes remaining, UNB woke up the crowd with a goal that was quickly called off, but kept up the momentum in order to secure the lead with a last second heartbreaker for Calgary.
With 4.1 seconds remaining in the game, UNB defensemen Josh Kidd slapped one into the net behind Calgary goaltender Butler after captain Kyle Bailey won a draw back to the point. Kidd's goal found its way through a plethora of players, putting UNB at a one goal advantage, shattering the Dinos chance for a tie. The late goal put an end to a phenomenal team effort by the Dinos. Butler finished with 28 saves to keep his team fighting until the end.
The 2-1 loss sent the Dinos to a must win match against the Western Ontario Mustangs the next day in order to qualify for the championship game.
A championship game, however, was not in the stars for the Dinos who put in a remarkable effort against Western on Friday. At the UNB Aitken Centre, a few missteps by the Dinos turned out to be costly in a close 3-2 loss eliminating their contention for the University Cup.
A quick goal from Western dampened spirits on the Dinos bench worsened by a Calgary turnover in the second period putting them in a two goal deficit. Soon after, Dinos forward Brock Nixon put his team on the scoreboard.
Another goal by Western forward Steve Reese gave Western a two goal advantage which was quickly answered by Moore, but was too late for Calgary to pull ahead.
The game left the Dinos trailing from behind from the start and yielded not quite enough power to pull ahead.
Howell said that in a tournament like the University Cup, winning two games is pretty essential if you want to make it into the gold medal match.
"You pretty much have to win both games," said Howell. "Down to four seconds, a quick goal pulled the rug from under our feet."
The cup didn't have to travel very far this year after the tournament hosts UNB captured the University Cup title for the fourth time in their history and the third in five years. UNB ousted the McGill Redmen in a shut out 4-0 win in the gold medal game Sunday.
It's goodbye for the Dinos star players this year, including captain Reid Jorgenson, but head coach Mark Howell said prospects next year look promising, after such a killer season.
"We have taken some big steps in the last two years," said Howell. "Our goal as a coaching staff is to create an environment where our players expect to win and know how to be successful. It is really important, once you become successful, you get a taste for success and keep striving towards it. Played some really good teams through playoffs and in the league. The better teams we play helps you appreciate the level of play that can be expected."
He said that over the summer, it is crucial to find players who can continue on with the finesse the team has had, particularly in the last two years.
"Recruiting is going to be critical over the next few months to find some elite players who can take some of the spots of the players graduating this year and leaving the program," said Howell.