Griffins defeat Thunder 6-4 in emotional first game back after teammate's death

Brett Njaa lines up for a faceoff against Concordia's Adam Wheeldon during a game earlier this season (Matthew Jacula photo).
Brett Njaa lines up for a faceoff against Concordia's Adam Wheeldon during a game earlier this season (Matthew Jacula photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Honouring the memory of teammate Nakehko Lamothe with a minute of silence before their first game back since the forward's tragic death, the MacEwan Griffins men's hockey team finished an emotional evening with a 6-4 victory over the Concordia University Thunder on Friday night.

Six different players scored for the Griffins in the Downtown Community Arena game that featured a five-goal second-period scoring spree by both teams and was finally put away on a last-minute empty netter.

"I thought we gave up a lot off the rush, which is something we're working at trying to correct," said MacEwan head coach Michael Ringrose. "Tonight, in my mind, we weren't very good defending the rush. We gave up one we shouldn't have and as a result they were able to get a few and push back in the second frame.

"But credit to our guys, they got through a game on an emotional night. It wasn't our prettiest win, for sure, but we'll take it."

With the result, the Griffins move into third in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference standings at 14-5-1-0, while the Thunder fall to 5-16-1-1 as they hang precariously onto the sixth and final playoff position, three points up on Briercrest, who have two games in hand.

Concordia opened the scoring less than four minutes after the opening faceoff when Phil Dillon beat Marc-Olivier Daigle for his first of two on the evening.

The Griffins mounted a big push-back in the latter half of the first period, though, as Cam Gotaas, Cameron Reagan and Taylor Bilyk all beat goalie Garrett Storms.

Seemingly on their way against a team they outscored 12-4 in beating them twice back in November, the Griffins ran into a Thunder team on Friday that refused to bow out. Dillon scored again just 17 seconds into the second period to pull his squad within one.

Garan Magnes restored a two-goal lead for the Griffins 7:36 into the frame, but the Thunder scored twice within a minute (Adam Wheeldon and Ian McLellan) to square the affair.

"It was the type of game you typically see coming off an emotional situation," said Ringrose. "We were very good early and then we sagged. It took us awhile to get our game back once the adrenaline wore off. We found a way to pull together and get the win in the third."

Andrew Kartusch beat Storms in the final minute of the wild second period, though – a tally that would stand up as the game-winner. Jacob Schofield hit an empty net with 59 seconds left to ice it.

"Again, we had contributions from multiple guys, which has been a staple for us this year," said Ringrose. "Our depth allows us to continue to roll and we have different guys who are carrying more of the load on any given night.

"I thought Nic Correale, Ryan Hartman, Kaelan Holt – a lot of our first-year guys, had real strong games. Cam (Reagan) and Kartusch on the back, I thought were both very good. Austin Yaremchuk had a standout performance for us. Lots of names and I'm probably leaving a few out, but it was good to see some different guys get in on the scoring."

Daigle made 29 saves for his 11th win of the season. Storms stopped 30 for Concordia.

The teams will meet again on Saturday night (7 p.m., Clareview Arena).