Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – One memory stands out above the rest for Nolan Yaremchuk as heads into the final month of his university hockey career.
And it's certainly a fitting one, considering that the man known as 'Yammer' has long been the unofficial social convenor of the MacEwan Griffins men's hockey team.
"I think it has to be our first championship – just the way that we won," he said of the 2017 Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championship – MacEwan's first title in 13 years, captured in the hostile territory of NAIT Arena. "There was pandemonium, we had all of our friends and family there. It was just unbelievable.
"That night, I would love to relive it a million times over. It was just incredible," he continued. "We were walking down the street, we got a police escort to the bar. We took a picture outside with the Wayne Gretzky statue. We have a funny picture with all of us hanging off of him with the trophy."
Earlier that night, he had scored the biggest goal of his career – a late one in the dying seconds that completed MacEwan's rally from 3-1 down, sending it into overtime where Brett Njaa scored the title-clinching golden goal.
Teammates mob Nolan Yaremchuk after he scored the tying goal late in Game 3 of the 2017 ACAC Final, setting the stage for the Griffins to win their first championship since 2004 in overtime (Len Joudrey photo).
Yaremchuk will lead the Griffins into a makeup game against Red Deer College on Wednesday (6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena). Two nights later, MacEwan will honour him and four other graduating seniors – Dallas Smith, Ryan Baskerville, Taylor Bilyk and Matt Waseylenko – for Senior Night prior to their final home game of the season against NAIT (7 p.m., DCA).
"I'm not ready for it to be done, but I'm OK with it to be done because I look back on it and I had so much fun," said Yaremchuk. "I have no regrets.
"It's going to be emotional, but at the end of the day you'll think 'wow, that was a good time.' "
Ultimately, that will be the legacy he leaves to the program – he helped change the culture in the dressing room and on the ice. When he and the others came through the doors in 2014, the Griffins were a middle-of-the-pack program, struggling to get past the first round.
Now, they're the league's premier powerhouse with back-to-back ACAC championships, attempting to pull off the three-peat.
"We were fortunate enough when Bram (Stephen, former head coach) brought us in that he instilled we were going to change (the culture)," said Yaremchuk. "Between Bram and Mike (Ringrose, current head coach), it was a combination of things Bram did, things Mike did and things that we did that brought it to what it is today. It was a big team effort. It was cool for us to see the transition – it was fun.
"We weren't maybe as good in our first couple years, but we had a great group of guys and we had fun. Now we have our training room with all the amenities. We have our beautiful new rink. Now things are at a more professional standpoint and we're winning."
As Yaremchuk prepares to graduate with a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in accounting, he hopes what he and the other seniors have helped put in place will stay with the program.
"I hope continuing with the program we don't lose our humbleness," he said. "I think that should be that when you come to MacEwan you're not any higher than the guy beside you. You might do one thing on the ice, but they're just as important as you are.
"At the end of the day, that's the most important thing and it's something we learned throughout our whole time. I can't say enough about the other four guys.
"What I knew I always could do was contribute to that dressing room," he added. "I wanted to keep a cool culture within our group each year that we grew, so all the new players felt like it was a family – there was no seniority of older guys and younger guys. I really just tried to implement that as much as I could."
Yaremchuk, who is the son of former NHL player Ken Yaremchuk, aims to continue his hockey career after MacEwan in Switzerland. Because he was Swiss-born while his father played pro there, he has the advantage of joining a pro team as a domestic player.
"I'm very fortunate, obviously – what I'm able to do is play as a Swiss player," he said. "It's definitely in my plan to go over there and see. I'm going to train really hard this summer kind of like a professional would and I'm going to put all my marbles in a basket.
"If it works out, it works out – I'm going to put all my effort in. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out and I'm going to come home and try to figure out my life a little bit."
But first, he and the Griffins have some business to attend to as they vie to become just the fourth team in ACAC men's hockey history to pull off a three-peat. The last ones to do it were the SAIT Trojans, who won four-straight from 2007-2010.
MacEwan's goal of accomplishing that would be aided by finishing the season in one of the top two positions, thus gaining valuable rest through the first-round bye that comes with that.
That makes Wednesday night's game very important as RDC is right on their tail, aiming for the same thing. MacEwan has had this one circled on their calendar since Friday's 3-0 loss to the Kings in Sylvan Lake.
"To put it frankly, we weren't very good on Friday and we know we weren't very good," said Ringrose. "Our guys are eager for an opportunity to respond. We're going to get that opportunity on Wednesday. I would expect us to have a solid response and a great effort in what's a very important game."