Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Third-string goaltending duties aren't glamourous. There's no fanfare.
Skates are traded for dress shoes on game day. Instead of glove, blocker and pads, here is your pen, paper and video camera, good sir.
Ryan Larochelle has lived that role for a season-and-a-half on the MacEwan Griffins men's hockey team.
But amid the yard sale of gear all over the NAIT Arena ice when the Griffins won their second-straight Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championship last March one of the most enduring moments was when starter Marc-Olivier Daigle found a suit-clad Larochelle and wrapped him up in a big bear hug.
There's little doubt the third-string goalie – only on the ice with the team in practices – played a key role in getting MacEwan to the top of the mountain.
"It was awesome," Larochelle said. "Just talking to the guys throughout the season and getting that pat on the back (was important). Even though you're not playing, you mean something to this team.
"Just being a part of the guys and having that reception when I got on the ice was something pretty special."
That made all the waiting worth it. Because the process isn't an easy one.
"It's a difficult role to play on a team but a really important one," said head coach Michael Ringrose. "He's a guy we're asking to show up at the rink and work hard and push guys every day.
"When he was in the third-string slot, we were asking him to do those things and he did it. Not only that, but he's an exceptional teammate. He's a great example of what to do in the classroom – a positive academic influence on our team."
Biding his time like a true pro in that role is now paying off for the Edmonton native, who has been elevated to second-string behind Daigle for the rest of the season with Eric Szudor not on the team anymore.
There's a chance Larochelle will be between the pipes for one of this weekend's games as the Griffins host a doubleheader against Briercrest College on Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (1 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).
"Eric's not going to be back in the second semester, so Ryan's going to get the opportunity to step into the two slot and it's frankly something he's earned," said Ringrose.
"I thought to start the season, he was very good and dialed in and focused. Towards the end of the first half, he was really pushing and knocking on the door for an opportunity. I'm excited to see what he can do."
Larochelle has long known Ringrose, having him as an instructor at Vimy Ridge Academy in his youth. He bounced around four different junior leagues, but the last team he played for before coming to MacEwan was the Humboldt Broncos in 2016. Needless to say, the tragic bus crash that claimed 16 members of the team last April hit home for him.
"I knew or had relationships with about eight or nine of the guys there," he said. "It was one of my good buddies' birthdays that evening when I heard the news and I started getting calls from my billets and other people that have played on the team.
"That experience was terrible and tragic, and I feel for those people and those families. It was definitely a hard time."
Larochelle later headed to Humboldt with his girlfriend and stayed with his former billets to help the grieving town.
"To be around the community at that time … I just saw what they were going through," he said. "I tried to help out any way I can. That's an absolute hockey town and their nights revolve around the Broncos for sure."
Entering the second half of the season, the Griffins are third in the ACAC standings at 9-4-1-0, three points back of Red Deer College (10-2-1-1) for top spot and one in arrears of NAIT (10-4-0-0) for second.
Briercrest enters the series in the ACAC basement with a record of 2-11-1-0, but they're only three points out of the final playoff spot held by Concordia (3-8-1-1).
New goaltender added
Ringrose has brought in a new third-string goalie for the second semester: Josh King, a current MacEwan student, who is leading the Capital Junior B Hockey League with a 1.87 GAA and .946 save percentage in 22 games played for the North Edmonton Red Wings.
"He's going to come in and take on that role that Larry did and push our guys in practice every day," he said. "He's got the right mindset and approach and I'm excited to see him in that role as well."
Old face returns
Another key addition is a familiar face. Bryan Arneson, who previously played for the Griffins from 2014-17 and was a key member of their 2016-17 championship, is back from a season-and-a-half in the minor pro ranks, most recently with the ECHL's Worcester Railers. He's currently working through an injury as he aims to return later in the second semester.
"He's very hard to play against," said Ringrose. "He's the type of guy you want on your team and you don't want to see on the other one.
"He can play up and down your lineup in any situation. He's coming back after a couple of years bouncing around playing professional hockey and he's excited to get back on track and back on the ice with the guys he has some success with two years ago."
Bryan Arneson, seen in action during the 2016-17 season for the Griffins, has returned to MacEwan after a year-and-a-half playing minor pro (Nick Kuiper photo).