Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – When asked to remember what stood out about Nicolas Correale during back-to-back Alberta Junior Hockey League championship runs for the Spruce Grove Saints in 2014-15, former Saints coach Michael Ringrose has a vivid memory on repeat.
Blocked shot after blocked shot after blocked shot.
"For me, as much as anything, Nic's a guy who's willing to sacrifice his body to make sure shots don't get through from the point," said the head coach of the MacEwan Griffins, who has recruited his former pupil to the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference ranks this season.
"One of my memories of Nic when hockey matters the most is the number of shots he blocks and gets in front of. Whether it's 5-on-5 or the penalty kill, he takes pride in that – in those key situations when the game is on the line. It makes him extremely valuable."
Certainly, Correale is a really nice piece to add to a team that's coming off their own back-to-back championships as the best in the ACAC in both 2017 and 2018. But he isn't taking a back seat as a rookie; rather he's doing what he always has – score and play a great two-way game –already earning Ringrose's trust in key situations.
"If you look at what he brings, he's a very good offensive mind, he puts himself in good spots and is willing to go to the hard areas but is also defensively strong on the wall and an exceptional penalty killer," said Ringrose. "He really is a complete package that can contribute in every situation.
"He kills penalties, he's on one of our powerplay units. He's versatile and can play up and down the lineup in any situation. Really a valuable piece of the team to start the year."
Entering a weekend series against UAlberta-Augustana – Friday in Camrose (7:30 p.m.) and Saturday in Edmonton (6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena) – Correale is tied for sixth in scoring on the Griffins with four goals and seven points in eight games.
"I think a lot of it comes from trust with the coach," said Correale. "I've played for him before and he knows what I'm capable of. It's easy to get on the ice and I've been lucky. I've had some good linemates and we've been clicking. We've been on a good run. Hopefully, I can keep getting the ice time."
Friday night's game marks the first time Correale will have played in Camrose since the Kodiaks were ousted from the playoffs last March in his final junior contest. He's one of eight Griffins players who played in Camrose during their junior careers, including two Kodiaks teammates from last season – Ryan Hartman and Ryan McKinnon.
"Obviously, I had a lot of fun there," Correale said. "I love that rink. It will be awesome to play in that rink again. My billet family will be there from last year … and lots of people I know who are on the Kodiaks team this year should be coming out, so it's definitely exciting to be playing there again."
Once again, it will be a Griffins/Vikings matchup that will feature two of the league's elite teams. MacEwan tops the table with a 6-1-1-0 record so far, but UAA is just three points behind at 5-3-0-0.
"They have a very similar team to last year," said Ringrose. "Every time we played them last year, they were good competitive hockey games. They play the game with pace and have some guys with offensive skill who can make you pay if you give them time and space.
"For us, it will be about playing a sound, structured game and capitalizing on our opportunities. We need our special teams to continue to be strong."
There's no doubt Correale can play a big role in that department. Yes, he still blocks shots very well.
"It was a big part of my game (in Spruce Grove) and still is," he said. "It's nice I can jump in and he can trust me on the PK and I can get some minutes there. I can be a shot blocker and help out the team that way, for sure."
The Griffins are coming into the weekend off a bye week, which has been beneficial to healing some bumps and bruises. Now the challenge will be to pick up where they left off when they exhibited some of their best hockey of the season in back-to-back 6-2 wins over Red Deer College on Oct. 26-27.
"I think it was the right time for us," said Ringrose of a bye that "re-energized" the team. "We were happy with our first half of the (semester), especially the last quarter of the first half. It ended on a good note, but we were certainly banged up after some hard weekends and in need of rest. We were able to do that as well as focus on academics with midterms.
"But that time has passed and now it's time to pick up where we left off and have a strong start to the weekend against Augustana."