The Mount Royal University (MRU) Cougars won their first Canada West Championship by defeating the defending champion University of British Columbia (UBC) Thunderbirds 1-0 on Nov. 4th in Calgary.
The road to the Canada West Championship matchup has been an exciting one for both teams this fall.
MRU finished the regular season in first place in the Canada West Prairie Division with an 11-2-1 record. They bested Thompson Rivers University 2-1 in overtime in the quarterfinal and then the University of Victoria 3-1 in extra time in the semifinal.
The Thunderbirds posted a 13-1-2 record this season as the first-place leader of the Canada West Pacific Division. In their quarterfinal match they defeated the University of Calgary 3-0 and then the University of Alberta 3-0 in the semifinal.
This was Mount Royal’s first ever championship match appearance. Meanwhile, UBC had hoisted the trophy the last five consecutive seasons.
The first half kicked off at Mount Royal Stadium Field in front of over 500 hundred fans who braved the low temperatures to cheer on the teams. The competitive tone was quickly set as both sides settled in for the contest. Opportunities on both ends of the pitch appeared, but defensive lines on either side remained strong. The Thunderbirds held a slight advantage for a few minutes, containing the Cougars forwards, but they remained resilient and eventually an opening was found. In the 26th minute, on an offensive rush, Ethan Keen tore up the field with the ball. He found teammate Joshua Flacksman ahead on the left, who took a shot on Thunderbirds netminder Bennett McKay. McKay made the save, but was unable to control the rebound and Keen found the opportunity to put the ball in the back of the net. The remaining minutes saw no further goals and Mount Royal entered halftime in the lead 1-0.
The second half kicked off with the Cougars determined to defend their lead and the Thunderbirds eager to take it away. UBC forward Sebastian Dzikowski – the Canada West Player of the Year – played hungry on the field, working to punch a hole in the Cougars defense, which was led by Canada West Defender of the Year, Caden Rogozinki. The Thunderbirds pressure was relentless, forcing Mount Royal netminder Aiden Dumoulin to be aggressive on the ball to make big saves for his team. As the half went on the game was dominated by the Thunderbirds offence, forcing the Cougars to play smart defensive soccer. In the end the Cougars were able to defend their one-goal lead and made history, earning the program’s first Canada West Championship.
“This is surreal. I remember talking to the team at the beginning of the year and just the idea of making playoffs seemed impossible when we started. To finally touch the Canada West banner is incredible,” said Cougars Head Coach Ryan Gyaki about the victory,
Taking in the post game celebrations on the field, Gyaki added: “I want to thank all the players for how much they sacrifice. They have so much going on academically and yet they stay focused, motivated and make training a priority every day. Thank you to all the staff who come in every day and don’t get as much credit as they should. And the university, Mount Royal, people have no clue what is going on behind the scenes to make a game like today happen. This victory is for everyone.”
After securing their spots last weekend, both teams will now compete in the U SPORTS National Championship, taking place in Sydney, Nova Scotia from November 9-12. Games can be streamed on cbc.ca.
“Today was a good indication of what Nationals will be like,” said Gyaki.
“UBC is an incredible program, humble and hard working. Today’s game could have gone either way and I think Nationals will be the same. We are looking forward to more hard-fought games and hope the ball bounces our way again.”
(This story was originally published on the MRU Cougars website and author Katya Sodamin has granted the Calgary Booster Club permission to use it here).