Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – A valiant effort to rally back from 3-1 down and force overtime turned into heartbreak for the MacEwan Griffins in the second extra session of their home opener on Saturday night.
SAIT's Kevin Massy bagged a one-timer on a 4-on-3 power play to give the visitors a 4-3 victory at the Downtown Community Arena. The result gave the Trojans a sweep in the weekend series after they scored a 4-0 win on Friday in Calgary.
"It was definitely a better effort than last night," said Griffins interim head coach Michael Ringrose, whose club was outshot 55-36 on Friday before outshooting SAIT 45-36 on Saturday. "I was happy we were able to regroup and come back with a better effort, but … it's never acceptable to get swept."
The Griffins will undoubtedly be working on the power play extensively in practice this upcoming week after going 0-for-8 with the man advantage, including whiffing on two 5-on-3s. SAIT went 1-for-5.
"That's exactly what it came down to," said Griffins captain Ryan Benn. "Their power play executed and ours didn't. That's something we're obviously going to have to address. It just comes down to bearing down on chances.
"I think that we generated some good looks we wanted," he continued. "We've got guys who have been here and know how to score, myself included in that group. We need to have the mental toughness to bear down and put the puck in the net."
The first-period was a particular indictment to MacEwan's special teams woes when they had four power plays to zero for SAIT and wound up trailing 1-0 on the scoreboard. Included in that was a two-man advantage for 24 seconds where the Griffins failed to get a shot.
MacEwan had a longer 5-on-3 in the third period – for 1:07 – but didn't score on that one either.
"You've got to score on those," said Ringrose. "On both of those, we lose the faceoff clean and the puck ends up down the ice. That's 30 seconds off your power play right there."
Despite being short-handed for a good portion of the opening frame, the Trojans opened the scoring at 9:29 when forward Colton McCarthy entered the zone with speed and blew a slapshot through a screen and past Marc-Olivier Daigle.
SAIT made it 2-0 at 17:28 of the second period when Owen LaClare potted a rebound from a sharp angle after SAIT bore down on Daigle with superior numbers.
After a slow start, MacEwan began to find some rhythm in the middle frame. And rookie Tyler Mrkonjic broke the ice for MacEwan, netting the Griffins' first goal of the 2017-18 season when he planted a wrister top shelf past goalie Payton Lee off a great pass from Dallas Smith.
With a late powerplay, MacEwan pressed for the tying goal. But an inconvenient and untimely back-checking breakdown got in the way of that plan, giving SAIT a short-handed 2-on-1 break. Roaring down the right wing, Boden Sigurdsson saucered a pass to Dave Nippard for a one-timer that put the Trojans up 3-1 heading into the intermission.
The Griffins really took over in the third period, using their speed to drive SAIT's defence up the wall. Just as Nakehko Lamothe stepped out of the penalty box, Brett Smythe roared in on the left wing and his crossing pass tipped in off Jacob Schofield, pulling MacEwan within one at 14:45.
Late in the third, Benn entered the zone, dished off to Nolan Yaremchuk and drove to the net. Sure enough, Yaremchuk's blast yielded a rebound that he chipped in for the tying goal with 3:38 left.
"He's a good goalie over there and we needed to get inside their D, get greasy and get second opportunities on him," said Benn. "He's a quick goalie, but we knew that we were going to have to battle for second opportunities and that's why I got to the net. I was just lucky to get to the net and get a stick on it. It happened to go in."
MacEwan was rolling and looked poised to complete a comeback in overtime. However, Smythe was forced to take down a SAIT player in the neutral zone to prevent an odd-man rush and it gave the Trojans the powerplay they would need to score the winner.
"We have to be better in a lot of areas," said Benn. "We played a lot better tonight than we did the other night, but it goes to show if you take a play off in this league the other team's going to make you pay."
Next up for the Griffins is a home-and-home series against Portage College, Oct. 13 in Lac La Biche, AB and Oct. 14 at the Downtown Community Arena (6 p.m.).
ICE CHIPS: Prior to the game, the Griffins unveiled their 2016-17 ACAC Championship banner … Graduated players Shawn Proulx and Blake Grainger returned to do the honours.
Blake Grainger, left, and Shawn Proulx drop the sheet to unveil their banner prior to Saturday's game. Both players graduated from the program at the end of last season (Matthew Jacula photo).