Lost first-period battles come back to bite Griffins in 4-3 upset loss to Voyageurs

Marc-Oliver Daigle stares down a Portage shooter in Friday's contest. The Griffins lost the rematch 4-3 on Saturday (John Amerongen photo).
Marc-Oliver Daigle stares down a Portage shooter in Friday's contest. The Griffins lost the rematch 4-3 on Saturday (John Amerongen photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

LAC LA BICHE, Alta. – The culprit was three lost battles in the first period.

It's painful to distill a loss down to that, but that essentially sums up how the MacEwan Griffins were upset 4-3 by the Portage College Voyageurs on Saturday night.

Portage scored three times in just under four minutes in the opening frame to erase an early 2-0 deficit and then got terrific goaltending down the stretch from Taryn Kotchorek to post the biggest upset of the 2018-19 ACAC season so far.

"To be honest, I thought we started the game better than we did last night, but then we lost some key battles in key situations," said MacEwan head coach Michael Ringrose. "Twice we're two on two and we misplay it or get out-battled and it ends up in our net. Once we were one-one-one and the guy was able to do the same thing, win a battle and it ends up in our net. All of a sudden we're down 3-2."

The game started as well as possible for MacEwan when Brett Njaa scored just 20 seconds after the opening puck drop. Ryan Baskerville then tallied 4:06 in and it seemed the Griffins, who beat Portage 7-1 on Friday in Edmonton, were well on their way again.

But Trevor Posch got one back for the Voyageurs 8:07 in and Colby Livingstone scored two more before the period was done. Ryan Larochelle lasted just 11:58 in the MacEwan net before getting the hook in favour of Marc-Olivier Daigle.

Daigle stopped 17 of 18 the rest of the way, beaten just by David Pryde in the third period, but he didn't get the offensive support. The Griffins, who entered the contest with 27 goals for in three games, could only beat Kotchorek once more when Jacob Schofield potted one off a scramble in front with 6:59 remaining.

The Griffins put 20 of their 47 shots on the former Battlefords North Stars goalie in the third period, but the man who has the most career shutouts in Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League history stood tall.

"He was good," said Ringrose. "We talked about it heading into the weekend that they have a good goalie. He didn't play last night, but they have a couple of good goaltenders.

"I thought we started well and got a couple early. When his team gave him a chance, he ran with it and we weren't able to solve him down the stretch."

With the loss, the Griffins fall to 3-1-0-0 on the campaign, while Portage improves to 1-3-0-0.

"Credit to them," said Ringrose of the Voyageurs. "They seized the opportunity and were willing to put it all on the line to get the job done. I can't even count the number of shots that they blocked or the number of key saves their goaltender made down the stretch.

"Ultimately, they saw light. We gave them that opportunity. We opened the door for them and couldn't close it. They came through and ended up getting the win."

That's the lesson for the Griffins, who will head back to practice to prepare for a series with SAIT on Oct. 19-20.

"I think what we can learn from it is every play matters," said Ringrose. "You never know when a play in the first period is going to be the difference in a hockey game. The lesson for our group is every play matters no matter what the time says on the clock or what period it is.

"Tonight, we were great down the stretch," he added. "We pushed hard and generated a lot of opportunities. At the end of the day, we might have deserved a better fate, but ultimately we lost some key plays early in the game and it ended up being the difference."