Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – It took nearly 34 minutes of hockey and 30 shots before the MacEwan Griffins managed to score on Briercrest College goaltender Jeremy Balyk on Saturday afternoon.
But when they hit 71 shots at the final buzzer – the most they've put on a net this season – the score read 5-0 in MacEwan's favour.
"We just stayed with it. That was the biggest thing," said Griffins head coach Michael Ringrose, whose squad wrapped a sweep of the visiting Clippers after also blanking them 4-0 on Friday night. "We believed in the game plan and did a good job staying with it. Eventually, we cracked a tough egg.
"It took a little bit longer than we would have liked or that it typically does, but credit to our guys for having the character to stay with it and continue to play the right way."
As good as former Edmonton Junior B product Balyk was in making 66 saves, Griffins starter Marc-Olivier Daigle was even better, refusing to allow a goal on 32 Briercrest shots Saturday a night after stopping all 19 from the Clippers. It's the second time in Daigle's Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference career that he's posted back-to-back shutouts.
Midway through the third period, Daigle also busted past his own MacEwan record for longest regular season shutout streak, eclipsing the old mark of 143:27 set during the 2016-17 season to now sit at 156:15.
"We gave up some Grade A opportunities and every time that we did, he was there to make the save," said Ringrose. "That's what we needed from him on our first weekend back after not playing in (more than a month). It was important.
"He gave us an opportunity for us to get our game. Especially I thought in the first period yesterday, he was very, very good."
After Dan Dekoning – Briercrest's star out of the Ontario Hockey League – made life tough on the Griffins Friday in making 50 saves, his backup Balyk, in just his second start of the season, looked the part, too. The Edmontonian's best work came with his glove, flashing the leather to stop Cam Reagan's one-timer midway through the first and then robbing Brett Njaa in tight with the same mitt.
Finally, the Griffins solved him, though, when Tyler Morrison's power-play point blast through traffic at 6:01 of the second period trickled through his legs and across the line.
It took another 10 minutes of action for MacEwan to beat him again as Briercrest did a solid job keeping the speedier Griffins on the perimeter and the crease clean. But they had a costly lapse in their defensive systems for about five minutes in the third period.
When Cam Gotaas finished off a pretty tic-tac-toe power-play passing sequence from Reagan and Njaa 4:01 into the final frame, it kicked open the floodgates.
Just three minutes later, Garan Magnes fed Ryan Baskerville down low and Brett Smythe potted the rebound. A minute and 20 seconds after that, MacEwan went up 4-0 when Dallas Smith cruised in untouched from the point, deked out the defence and slid it past a diving Balyk.
"I thought after the first one we got, they pushed back a little bit," said Ringrose. "I thought the second one was really what took some air out of their tires. From there, I thought we got hungry, too, and started moving our feet and smelled blood. Eventually, we were able to put a few more past him."
After a timeout, the Clippers got some energy back and Daigle had to be sharp in stopping a point-blank rebound chance by Dawson Atamanchuk.
"I think the guys did a good job blocking shots," said the MacEwan goaltender, who leads the ACAC with a 1.53 goals against average and .946 save percentage. "That was one of our objectives today. And we were ready.
"We had two good weeks of practice after the break. We knew that they had a good goalie and we knew he could steal some games, so we worked and put 125 shots on them over the weekend. They made it easy for me."
Magnes batted a rebound out of the air past Balyk with 29.3 seconds left to seal a 5-0 win for the Griffins that pushes their record to 11-4-1-0, momentarily moving them into top spot in the ACAC with the chasing pack still in action tonight.
Briercrest falls to 2-13-1-0.
The Griffins next get set for a home and home against Portage College on Jan. 18-19 (the Saturday game is at the DCA, 6 p.m.), while Briercrest heads home to host NAIT on the same days.