Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – After alternating time between staring at the heavens, clanking iron and taking the numbers of the goalies that stonewalled them, the Oilers rookies finally wound up on the losing side of the leger on Wednesday night.
Despite boasting an impressive 10-0-2 record at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, B.C. dating back to 2014, the Oilers rookies succumbed to a 2-0 defeat against the MacEwan-NAIT All-Stars at Rogers Place.
"It's a bit of a tough pill to swallow, but give them credit and their goaltender – he was unbelievable," said Oilers' Chad Butcher, who was robbed blind by MacEwan's Marc-Olivier Daigle on a one-timer in the final minute of the first period.
"I don't know if it was two guys splitting or not, but whoever was in there was unbelievable. Credit to them."
You actually can't blame Butcher for not noticing the goalie switch with 10:25 left in the second period. Daigle and NAIT's Nathan Park were so equally spectacular in presenting the same frustrating mirror image of a brick wall to the Oilers that you'd swear they were the same guy.
Daigle made 19 stops – several of the highlight variety – before giving way to Park, who stopped 30 – including one that rolled down his back in the third period – to preserve the combined shutout.
"If you'd have told me that before the game, I'd have taken that for sure," said Daigle. "I think we both got in there and did a good job. The team played well in front of us – blocked a lot of shots.
"Obviously, we're really happy with the result today."
NAIT's Thomas Foster opened the scoring for the all-star team at 8:54 of the first period when he took a stretch pass from MacEwan defenceman Tyler Morrison and chipped it over Oilers goalie Dylan Wells.
"It was really good to get it right off the start," said Morrison of the tally.
"Going into the game you don't know what to expect with the speed and everything, but once we kind of felt each other out, I think our team got more comfortable as the game went on. That goal really helped out, for sure."
NAIT's Jarid Hauptman iced the 2-0 win with 2:31 left in the game when he took a 2-on-1 feed from fellow Ook Jake Mykitiuk, delayed to get Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner to commit and found the twine. MacEwan's Ryan Benn picked up an assist on the play.
In the end, the Oilers outshot MacEwan-NAIT 49-19 but came up empty.
"We're just playing," said Daigle of several great reactionary saves he made during the contest. "I was just trying to mix in a save there.
"I worked hard all summer – I've got my goalie coach and stuff just helping me work on some details. It showed today."
After the game, both teams shook hands, saluted the fans and stayed on the ice for a group picture. Clearly the experience was a great one all around.
"It was fun," said Butcher. "They were definitely comparable to the other (NHL) rookies teams. They were no slouch. They were really good.
"I have a couple buddies on the team, actually. It was good. They brought a good game and their goaltenders were good."
As for MacEwan and NAIT, who are bitter foes in the ACAC loop, they were happy to put their rivalry aside for one night.
"It was a real quick experience – just one practice and a game," said Morrison. "But it's pretty easy to put our differences aside for a game like this. It's a great experience for both of our teams. I think coming together like we did helped in the end."
After showcasing the ACAC brand of hockey well, MacEwan will now prepare for their season opener on Oct. 6 at SAIT. They will host the Trojans on Oct. 7 in their home opener (6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).