Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Make no mistake, the MacEwan Griffins won their third-straight ACAC men's hockey championship on Saturday with a total team effort.
But when you consider the impact that Ryan Baskerville had on the two-game series sweep over the NAIT Ooks, it's easy to see why he was named the ACAC Championship playoff MVP following Saturday's series-clinching win.
The fifth-year veteran forward not only scored the golden goal that decided Game 2 in double overtime, 5-4 in favour of the Griffins, he also scored MacEwan's third goal of the game – a crucial tally early in the third period as they came back from 4-0 down to force overtime.
"I think back to the start of the third period when we're down 4-2 and we've got a powerplay and we need a goal to keep the ball rolling," said MacEwan head coach Michael Ringrose. "That's not a shot that goes in if Ryan's not standing in front of the net and gets his stick on it. It's just a quick shot to the net. Obviously, it was a great job by Andrew Kartusch finding that lane, but Ryan's the reason that puck ends up in the net."
You couldn't count on two hands how many goals Baskerville scored like that one in his five-year career as he made the front of the net his office in a very similar role that Ryan Smyth once played for the Edmonton Oilers.
"That's been his role. He found a niche playing that role," said Ringrose. "He's willing to get to the hard areas, the front of the net in particular and understands how to position his body.
"He's very good at what he does and there's a reason why he had so much offensive success in his final season. He's continued to focus on that and continued to get better at it."
Baskerville finished the game with two goals and an assist, and posted four points in the two-game series win over NAIT. He was MacEwan's leading scorer in the playoffs with two goals and seven points in five games, following up on the best offensive campaign of his ACAC career (29 points in 28 regular season games – second-best on the Griffins).
He was on Cloud Nine following Saturday's win, leaping into the air after scoring the most memorable goal of his career – a snapper blocker side that ended the series with 9:01 left in the second overtime.
"I couldn't believe it. To finish my hockey career (with that goal), I'm speechless," he said. "When I came to MacEwan five years ago … three championships is incredible. To finish it that way we did, down 4-0, coming back and getting to win it in our barn is amazing. It's a storybook ending."
Added Ringrose: "It's special. He's a guy who has been through a lot with the program. He saw the program start in one location, move into a new arena and build towards what's now three championships in a row. To score the winning goal in his last one in his final season is one I'm sure he'll never forget."
Kartusch wins ACAC rookie of the year
Andrew Kartusch, centre, receives his ACAC rookie of the year award from ACAC Hockey Convenor Terry Ballard, left, and ACAC CEO Mark Kosak (Matthew Jacula photo).
Before the championship game, Griffins defenceman Andrew Kartusch was honoured as the ACAC's rookie of the year – a fitting award for how important the blueliner has become for the Griffins.
The former captain of the Drumheller Dragons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League excelled in his first season in the ACAC, leading all rookie blueliners in scoring with three goals and 19 points in 25 games. That led all Griffins defencemen in scoring and was sixth amongst all ACAC rearguards.
The Red Deer native consistently plays against the opposition's best players in all situations for the Griffins and has grown into an elite two-way defenceman.
"His approach on a day to day (basis) is refreshing," said Ringrose. "He comes to the rink and has always got a smile on his face. He wants to work at his game and continue to get better. He's loved by his teammates and in return they believe in him.
"He's had an exceptional rookie campaign for us. He's worked his way up through the lineup and plays in every situation now. He's certainly deserving of the award he's receiving from the ACAC."
Kartusch was all smiles after Saturday's triumph, caught up in the championship celebration and the aura of awesomeness that comes with winning such a prestigious award.
"It means so much," he said. "Without the help of teammates, I couldn't have got that award. I just can't thank them enough. The older guys have mentored me so much this year.
"I'm just at a loss for words right now, this is such a great feeling."
Daigle, Njaa three-peat on All Conference teams
Marc-Olivier Daigle had the best numbers by a goaltender in MacEwan men's hockey history, making him a no-brainer to repeat on the ACAC first all-star team (Matthew Jacula photo).
The Griffins also had two players crack the ACAC's All Conference teams and, just like the team's championship win, both were individual three-peats. Marc-Olivier Daigle repeated as the ACAC's first team all-star goaltender (he was also second team in 2016-17), while Brett Njaa made the second team just like he did in 2016-17 a year after he was named ACAC MVP and a first team all-star.
Daigle had the best season by a Griffins goaltender in the program's 21-year history, leading the ACAC with a 1.85 goals against average, .937 save percentage and 16 wins – all new records for MacEwan men's hockey. He also posted the longest shutout streak ever by a Griffins tender, going 226 minutes and 31 seconds without allowing a goal, while his three goose-eggs also set a new program record.
"If you look at what he was able to do this season and you look at the numbers and the shutout streaks and you put it all together, it's definitely a body of work that he can hang his hat on," said Ringrose. "He's continued to get better every year and being able to post the numbers that he did this year, it's impressive."
Njaa led the Griffins in scoring for a fourth-straight season with 35 points in 28 games and became the program's all-time career assists leader in the process. His best work, as always, came late in the season when the games mattered the most. He added four goals and six points in five playoff matches – a key reason why MacEwan claimed the banner again.
"If you look at Brett's MO, that's kind of how he operates. He gets better as the games get more important," said Ringrose. "Down the stretch, we were pushing for the bye, which ended up being so critical for us, he was playing at an extremely high level and carried that right through the two playoff series.
"He's a guy that continues to put his mark on the program and is certainly a huge part of our success."
Brett Njaa led the Griffins in scoring for a fourth-straight season with 35 points and became the program's career assists leader in the process (Matthew Jacula photo).