New captain Gotaas leads two-time defending ACAC champion Griffins into 2018-19 season

New captain Cam Gotaas shakes hands with University of Calgary Dinos players following a preseason game between the teams earlier this month at the Downtown Community Arena (Matthew Jacula photo).
New captain Cam Gotaas shakes hands with University of Calgary Dinos players following a preseason game between the teams earlier this month at the Downtown Community Arena (Matthew Jacula photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – With longtime captain Ryan Benn graduating and riding off into the sunset after leading the MacEwan Griffins to two-straight ACAC men's hockey championships, head coach Michael Ringrose has named a new leading man.

Third-year forward Cam Gotaas will serve as the new captain of the Griffins as they head into the 2018-19 season aiming for the first three-peat in program history.

"I won't say it was an easy choice because I think we have exceptional character in the room and have a number of guys who would have done a great job," said Ringrose. "The biggest thing that Cam has is the respect of his teammates. He's a guy who leads in a number of different ways. He's vocal in the dressing room when he needs to be. He helps carry a shared message and understands what it takes to be successful, having won two championships.

"I think he's going to do an exceptional job as the captain of this team for the foreseeable future because he's only a third-year guy."

Brett Njaa, Nolan Yaremchuk, Taylor Bilyk and Ryan Baskerville will serve as Gotaas' assistant captains – a veteran group that also served as confidantes for Benn.

"It's a huge honour," said Gotaas. "It's nice to know I have the respect of the guys in the room. Mike explained it to me that I was chosen for a reason and to not change anything that's got me here.

"We have such a good leadership group in our dressing room, especially our older guys, that it's an honour to be chosen by them because they're such great leaders as well."

Benn left as the Griffins' career leading scorer and, as a captain, he had just the right message and set the proper example to lead MacEwan to two-straight titles.

"If I could even fill half of his shoes I'd be off to a pretty good start because he was a great captain and a great leader," said Gotaas. "I'm not going to step in and expect to do what he did because he was such a great person for the program.

"I'm still learning, I'm a young guy, so I'm going to take what I learned from him and what I've learned from the older guys in the room and just go from there, see where it takes us."

Gotaas and the Griffins will open the 2018-19 ACAC regular season this weekend in Caronport, Sask., with a pair of road games at the Briercrest College Clippers (Friday, 7 p.m. MT and Saturday, 2 p.m. MT). They will return to Edmonton for their home opener and banner-raising ceremony on Oct. 12 (7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena, vs. Portage College).

"I think it's good timing for the trip," said Ringrose. "That gives us an opportunity to get out of town together and do some team building and then focus on what's an important first weekend for us. If I was building the schedule, this is where I would have wanted the (Briercrest) games and so we're excited to get going."

MacEwan will be looking to get off to a better start than in 2017-18 when they went 2-4 out of the gates and had to claw back with a phenomenal second half to finish second in the standings.

Putting too much stock in the preseason can be dangerous, but the Griffins went 1-4-0, including losses to ACAC rivals NAIT and UAlberta-Augustana.

"We'll be the first to tell you that we didn't have the preseason we wanted to," said Gotaas. "We had a big win against Concordia the last weekend (5-2 on Sept. 28), which wasn't our greatest game either, but just the fact that we won it's nice to know we still remember how to do that.

"I think we take the positives out of some of those games and (review the) negatives to see what we can build on."

Only three teams in the 53-year history of ACAC men's hockey have won three titles in a row (two of those won four straight – most recently SAIT from 2007-2010). So, the feat the Griffins are trying to accomplish this season is rare and extremely tough.

"It's a difficult thing to do to win again," said Ringrose. "To win three times in a row is as much mental as it is physical. You have to have the will to go back to that place you need to be at, so you can play the way you need to play to be successful in the end. It's a process.

"I'm not sure we were mentally committed to that until this past week," he added. "I think we're over the mental hump and looking to push forward."

There are bound to be some growing pains when you add nine new players to the lineup like the Griffins have – a group that includes eight ACAC rookies.

"It's always a balancing act the start of the year because you have a group of guys who have been together and been through a lot, have won together," said Ringrose. "Then you have a group that's an important part of the program's future walking through the door.

"Early in the year, it does fall a lot on that core leadership group that we have and all of our veteran guys to make sure the door is open, and everyone feels a part of it. I think they've done a great job of that so far."