Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – What's it like to be that post-secondary hockey player who wakes up one morning and gets the call that he will be playing against the Edmonton Oilers?
Surreal? On Cloud 9? Nervous?
Probably a little bit of all of the above for the 20 members of MacEwan and NAIT's men's hockey teams who will have the chance of a lifetime to play against the Oilers' rookies on Wednesday night (7 p.m., Rogers Place)
"It will be a pretty incredible experience to be able to take the ice with the Oilers rookies – to look over there and see a team wearing the Edmonton Oilers jerseys," said Griffins captain Ryan Benn, who is MacEwan's all-time points leader despite coming into the program as an unheralded walk-on out of Junior B.
"I was telling this to a friend of mine - going to the playoff games in the spring, that was one of the best experiences I've had and that was as a fan. Now I'm going to be playing against the rookies of that same team. It's kind of funny that way."
Brett Njaa, the reigning ACAC MVP after scoring both overtime winners in MacEwan's three-game championship win over NAIT last March, never thought a chance like this would come.
"You never really think about something like that, especially when you're at the level we're at," said Njaa, who has led the Griffins in scoring the past two seasons. "So, to get an opportunity like that, you want to make the most of it. It's going to be a great time."
Benn and Njaa will be joined on the MacEwan-NAIT All-Star team by Griffins goalie Marc-Olivier Daigle, defencemen Taylor Bilyk, Tyler Morrison and Stefan Danielson, and fellow forwards Cameron Gotaas, Dallas Smith, Jacob Schofield and Tyler Mrkonjic.
NAIT is contributing goalie Nathan Park, defencemen Corey Chorneyko, Ty Stanton and Colton Waltz, and forwards Tanner Dunkle, Francis Menard, Thomas Foster, Jarid Hauptman, Jake Mykitiuk and Tyler Robertson to the team.
MacEwan's Michael Ringrose and NAIT's Tim Fragle will co-coach the squad.
The fact the players and coaches will line up together in the same locker-room after their ACAC final battle was so heated and hard fought adds intrigue to Wednesday's affair. The Griffins wound up wildly celebrating their first ACAC crown since 2004 on NAIT's home ice.
"It will be a really interesting dressing room dynamic for that game," said Benn ahead of the only combined practice (Tuesday at Rogers Place) the teams had before Wednesday's game.
"There's a ton of respect there, I assume both ways. We respect NAIT as a hockey team. We know how good they are. We're definitely huge enemies on the ice, but there will be no issues being professional about it."
Added Njaa: "There's definitely some bad blood there, but I think everyone's man enough and mature enough to put those differences aside for a couple of days and try to do the best we can."
There's no denying the skill level and speed of the Oilers rookies, but the MacEwan-NAIT team is older, wiser and may have the advantage in system play.
"I've watched them play the (Alberta Golden) Bears and they're obviously a very good team," Benn said of past year's Oilers rookie games. "It's interesting to watch the two different styles in those games. I think it will be pretty similar.
"They're very fast and explosive. I think the style we have is a more controlled game. Usually the hockey's pretty systematic in our league. We maybe hopefully have that advantage, although it may be tough with the all-star thing.
"It will be just two different styles."
Hopefully that will lead to an entertaining contest for the thousands of fans in the building, many of whom have not seen ACAC hockey before. The opportunity to showcase MacEwan and NAIT's brand of hockey is incredible.
"It's huge," said Benn. "That's the part that I've been thinking about a lot is just trying to represent our league as best as we can. We have some players on our team who played in the Western Hockey League and who played in front of crowds like this. Personally, I haven't. I've played in front of maybe 2,500 and I'm sure there's going to be a lot more than that.
"We're mature and we can look past that. It will take maybe 5-10 minutes to get used to that – after a certain amount of time you forget about the crowd."
Njaa doesn't plan to prepare any differently, even if there will certainly be some extra butterflies.
"It's a pretty great opportunity. I'm just kind of trying to prepare like any other game," he said. "It sounds like there will be lots of people there. It will be quite the atmosphere. I'm just excited and I'm going to try to enjoy it."
Tickets for Wednesday's game are still available at EdmontonOilers.com. All tickets are general admission and are priced at $20 each plus applicable fees.