CALGARY, Alberta — The difference in 2017-18 was one game.
In 2017-18, the Mount Royal Cougars were on the brink of a playoff spot in the Canada West standings. They entered the last game of the regular season with a record of 8-11, and they were tied with the Brandon Bobcats for the last playoff spot. The Cougars were coming off a loss, as were the Bobcats, so both teams were looking for a win to extend their season.
Mount Royal dropped second game in as many days to the Calgary Dinos, the Bobcats picked up a win in their regular season finale, and the Cougars’ season came to an end at the hands of their crosstown rivals.
The Dinos swept the two-game series with the Cougars as a part of the 2018 Crowchild Classic, and that was ultimately the difference between Mount Royal making the playoffs and missing out altogether.
A few close losses throughout the regular season would have helped the Cougars leading up to the final weekend if the results were flipped to save them from having to sweat the final weekend, but hindsight is always 20/20.
After being so close in 2017-18, the Cougars will be looking to get back into the playoffs in 2018-19. They graduate three fifth-year players from last year’s team, but could very well have their second-leading scorer back in the mix for his fifth year of eligibility this season. While their roster has yet to be posted online, there is a ton to speculate about for the Cougars and how they will look on the court.
Over the course of the 2017-18 season, the Cougars struggled with consistency. They put together a three-game winning streak from November 17th through to the 24th, posting a pair of wins over the Manitoba Bisons and a win over the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack.
Outside of that three game stretch, the Cougars weren’t able to string two wins together throughout the season.
They opened the season with a win over the Winnipeg Wesmen, then followed that up with two losses. Another win got their record back to 2-2, but they followed that win up with another pair of losses. Mount Royal was never able to sustain positive momentum, and that hurt them down the stretch when a spot in the playoffs was on the line.
The Cougars went 1-6 over their final seven games, playing themselves out of a playoff spot. Their lone win over that span came on the road against the Victoria Vikes. The win ended a four-game losing streak, but the Cougars weren’t able to build off the win. Two losses to the University of Calgary to close the season sealed the deal on Mount Royal’s playoff hopes.
While Mount Royal will lose its top scorer from last season in forward Josh Ross due to graduation, the Cougars could return their fair share of talent that will be looking to get the team back into the playoff picture.
Last year, fourth-year guard LJ Hegwood had himself a strong season with the Cougars after joining the team from the SAIT Trojans in the ACAC. The 6’6” hometown guard from Calgary was second on the team in scoring, posting 16.3 points per game on 45.2% shooting from the floor over the course of the year. Hegwood struggled from three-point range, hitting on just 24.4% of his attempts from beyond the arc.
At 6’6”, Hegwood brings size and athleticism to the back court rotation for head coach Marc Dobell and his staff. He added 6.0 rebounds per game, good for the third-highest mark on the team. Hegwood has the ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor due to his size and athleticism, and he appears to be a reliable three-point jumper away from putting up some big numbers.
It’s unclear as to whether or not both Hegwood and Glen Yang will be back in the mix for their fifth seasons of eligibility with the Cougars in 2018-19, but the return of one or both student-athletes will be a big boost for Mount Royal.
Yang finished third on the Cougars last season in scoring behind Ross and Hegwood, averaging 11.5 points to go along with 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per night out. He was one of three players to start in all 20 Canada West games for the Cougars. The return of Yang and Hegwood would give the Cougars a veteran back court that is more than capable of leading the team on their quest for the playoffs.
Nick Tancon appeared in 18 games last season, making 11 starts along the way. The native of Comox, BC averaged 7.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. With the loss of Ross up front, the 6’7” Tancon should take on a larger role with the team this season.
The graduation of both Ross and Noah Lewis leaves a pair of holes on the roster for the Cougars to fill this season. If the likes of Hegwood, Yang, and/or Tancon are back for the 2018-19 season, Mount Royal should be in the running for a post-season spot come February.
Regardless, the Cougars will need some of their newcomers and returning role players to step into bigger roles this season if the Cougars want to challenge for the Canada West title. Depth will be key for Mount Royal as they look to replace two of their top producers from a season ago.
– T. Bennett