Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Despite a late rally, the MacEwan Griffins couldn't recover from costly defensive breakdowns as they fell 5-2 to the NAIT Ooks on Saturday night at the Downtown Community Arena.
While the level run of play was hardly indicative of the somewhat lopsided score, NAIT scored twice off odd-man rushes, twice off rebounds and once off all of the above to seal a weekend sweep of the Griffins in the first action since they lost to MacEwan in the 2016-17 ACAC championship final.
"That's a very good team," said Griffins interim head coach Michael Ringrose. "They come at you in waves and they play with a lot of pace. You've got to be ready to go and there's not a lot of margin for error.
"Tonight, we made errors that fell outside the margin consistently and the result is we gave up Grade A opportunities. If you do that against a team like NAIT, they're going to put them in the back of the net."
The Ooks opened the scoring just 1:06 into the game when Brandon Ralph slotted home a rebound past Marc-Olivier Daigle. The Griffins goalie kept his team in the game with several sharp saves in the opening 20 minutes, including flashing the leather twice and making a great pad stop off NAIT's Tanner Dunkle midway through.
Fortunate to be down only 1-0 after being outshot 15-8 in the first, the Griffins found their game and carried the majority of the play in the second period … everywhere that is except on the scoresheet. The opportunistic Ooks didn't need many chances in the middle frame to make three of them count.
At 12:59, Francis Menard picked up a rebound and deftly dished it across crease to a wide-open Jake Mykitiuk for a one-timer past Daigle.
Just 33 seconds later, a giveaway at the blueline sent the same two players in a 2-on-1 rush, although this time it was Menard taking a cross-crease Mykitiuk pass and deking around Daigle.
Meanwhile, NAIT goalie Nathan Park kept the Griffins' offence at bay with a gem of a period, including stopping Cam Gotaas on a breakaway with a scintillating right pad stop.
Shortly after that, with 3:14 left in the second, NAIT went up 4-0 when a MacEwan defender fell at centre ice, allowing Mykitiuk and Jordan Davies to head in on a 2-on-1 with the latter deking around Daigle.
Chris Wray came into the game in relief as MacEwan tried to regroup, but they were facing an uphill battle on both the scoreboard and on the ice against a team which gives up little that isn't earned.
"That team makes you work hard for everything that you get," said Ringrose. "Nothing is easy. Tonight, we worked hard. There were moments where we were very good, but then there were moments when we broke down and things came easy for them. We need to eliminate those breakdowns. Things need to be more difficult."
Another breakdown led to NAIT's fifth goal, 3:05 into the third period. Cameron Brezinski stole the puck inside the blueline, slipped a defender and put the puck in on Wray. Tanner Dunkle cruised in unchecked to pot the rebound.
"That's a highly-skilled team over there. We know that," said MacEwan captain Ryan Benn. "When you make a mistake, they're going to make you pay every time. We need to have better attention to detail.
"Every single play matters. We need to start realizing that. It comes down to our approach day in, day out. We need to make sure we're sharp and ready to go at all times of the game."
MacEwan scored twice later in the third period – Tyler Morrison off a powerplay point blast through a screen at 11:25 and Brett Smythe off a goaltender giveaway by Park at 9:02 – but that's as close as they'd get.
"It was obviously not the weekend we wanted, but getting a couple of late ones there, I think we can use that to hopefully build some momentum here for the next couple of weeks of practice into the next games," said Morrison, who was named MacEwan's player of the game.
Mykitiuk, who had a three-point night, earned the honour for NAIT. The Grifffins outshot the Ooks 38-35 in the contest.
MacEwan falls to 2-4-0 in the ACAC standings, while NAIT remains perfect at 6-0-0.
The Griffins head into a bye weekend before resuming action against Red Deer College (4-2-0) on Nov. 3-4.
"We're going to regroup," said Ringrose. "We've got a couple of weeks of practice here to get on the same page and get going in the right direction again."
ICE CHIPS … Philanthropist Bill Comrie was in attendance for a special pre-game ceremony to present the first 12 scholarships out of his generous $1.5 million endowed donation to MacEwan University … The first class of scholarship recipients includes women's hockey players Dominique Scheurer, Sandy Heim, Nikki Reimer, Carley Jewell, Shanya Shwetz and Sydney Thomlison, as well as men's hockey players Chris Wray, Brett Njaa, Tyler Mrkonjic, Tyler Morrison, Marc-Olivier Daigle and Ryan Benn … Other dignitaries present for the ceremony included MacEwan University president Deborah Saucier, Director of Athletics Ken Schildroth and Griffins women's hockey head coach Lindsay McAlpine.