Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – The final goal of Ryan Baskerville's illustrious five-year career will be one of those remembered for a long time in the lore of the MacEwan Griffins men's hockey program.
A golden goal. A championship goal. A three-peat goal.
He bulged the twine with a snapshot off the left wing at 9:01 of the second overtime to end a wild Game 2 of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference final in which the Griffins fought back from a 4-0 deficit to win 5-4.
Game over. Series over. The Griffins poured off the bench, surrounding their assistant captain in a wild celebration of their third-straight ACAC Championship.
"I just tried to get it on net and I think I snuck it in low blocker somewhere," said Baskerville, who took a pass from rookie Nicolas Correale on the play. "I blacked out. I couldn't believe it. To finish my hockey career (with that goal), I'm speechless.
"When I came to MacEwan five years ago … three championships is incredible. To finish it the way we did, down 4-0, coming back and getting to win it in our barn is amazing. It's a storybook ending."
With the scrum of celebrating players still in full swing, veterans Brett Njaa and Cam Gotaas skated over to the far glass and invited the family of deceased teammate Nakehko Lamothe to join in the celebration.
Never far from their thoughts after his untimely passing following a game on Jan. 25, the Griffins wore specially-designed undershirts with a logo featuring his number and the words 'Griffin Forever' on the front and the phrase 'Compete like Kehks' on the back.
Gotaas accepted the championship trophy from ACAC CEO Mark Kosak and promptly brought it straight over to Lamothe's family for the first hoist.
"We've had that one planned for a while," said MacEwan's captain. "It's no secret, we didn't have to say it in the dressing room, he was our inspiration this year.
"He was watching over us tonight. He said 'I'm going to give you guys one.' Unreal. I can't say enough. We miss him, but I know wherever he is, he's smiling at this one."
Added Baskerville: "We were playing for him and his family. Just for them to be here was very special. He was our whole motivation for the second half of the season. I hope he's looking down smiling right now."
They even took a script right out of Lamothe's playbook. Needing to rally from 4-0 down in the contest, they modelled their game after the hardest-working player on the team who had been so instrumental in the Griffins' championship wins in 2017 and 2018.
"He's the hardest-working guy out there and I think you kind of saw it tonight," said Gotaas. "We worked so hard. We didn't have a great 15 minutes there, but we just stuck with it. This is special."
With the triumph, the Griffins become just the fourth team in ACAC to three-peat, following NAIT (1984-87), NAIT (1990-92) and SAIT (2007-2010). Along with the Griffins' women's team, who celebrated a three-peat earlier this month, they've made MacEwan the first institution in ACAC history to have both men's and women's hockey teams capture three-straight championships.
MacEwan's leadership group accepts the trophy and banner. From left, assistant captains Taylor Bilyk, Brett Njaa, Ryan Baskerville, captain Cam Gotaas and assistant captain Nolan Yaremchuk (Matthew Jacula photo).
"In this league when the parity is as good as it is, it's incredible," said head coach Michael Ringrose. "We've got a special group that is able to play their best hockey when it matters the most.
"Credit to them. Being down 4-0 in this game and finding a way to battle through … we talked before the game that we knew at some moment tonight adversity was going to hit. And it certainly did for us, but we were able to dig deep and change the tide and get back on top. I've got nothing but good things to say about the leadership in our room and about that group as a whole."
After NAIT opened up a seemingly insurmountable 4-0 lead over MacEwan midway through the second period, it seemed inevitable that the series was going to follow the same script as the last two years when the road team won every game between the cross-town rivals.
Matt McNeil scored twice for the Ooks to open the floodgates on a scoreless game before Carson Beers and Shane Fraser followed those tallies up to push the lead to 4-0 in the blink of an eye. The latter three were scored 2:43 apart.
How the Griffins came back from that is deserving of its own novella, but it started slowly and quickly kicked off a momentum train that couldn't be stopped.
Rookie Ryan McKinnon, who returned to the ice after taking a scary hit from behind in the first period, sent a behind-the-back pass from behind the Ooks net onto the tape of Garan Magnes for MacEwan's first goal with 2:51 left in the second. Just 1:29 later, Austin Yaremchuk picked the puck out of his skates in the slot following a Brett Njaa intercept and wired it over goalie Brenden Jensen's shoulder.
"I think it was big being able to get those two late in the second," said Ringrose. "It put the game within reach."
Just 1:30 into the third period, MacEwan pulled to within one when defenceman Andrew Kartusch, who won the ACAC's rookie of the year award prior to the game, sifted a shot from the point on the powerplay that Baskerville tipped past Jensen.
"Like every hockey player says, I'm at a loss for words," said Kartusch in celebration afterward. "I've never had this feeling before. I'm just at a loss for words. It's amazing feeling. I wish everybody could feel this."
When Correale tied it less than three minutes later, firing a loose puck in the slot over Jensen's shoulder, it completed the improbable comeback.
Nic Correale is all smiles after scoring the goal that completed MacEwan's comeback from 4-0 down on Saturday (Matthew Jacula photo).
"It felt really fast when it went from 1-0 to 4-0 for them, but I also felt like it was really fast to go from 4-0 to 4-4," said Ringrose. "Lots of momentum swings in that game and we were fortunate enough to catch the last one."
From there, the Griffins were a team of destiny, especially dominant in the second overtime to win for the first time on home ice.
"These guys are unbelievable," said Gotaas. "I can't give enough credit to the character in that room. I still can't believe it. This is a very special moment."