Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Just over two hours after the MacEwan Griffins women's hockey team celebrated the unveiling of their 2016-17 ACAC Championship banner in a pre-game ceremony, they wore giant smiles again after wrapping up a 2-1 victory over the Red Deer Queens at the Downtown Community Arena on Friday.
A whole lot of hard work, crisp passes and a little help from a quick whistle.
"Going into the first weekend and we can get a sweep – I think that's a positive way to start a new season," said Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "We know there was pressure on us to perform, especially coming in as defending champs. We executed.
"Do I think we played two complete 60 minute games? No. But we've got a lot of positives to build on for next weekend."
MacWilliam opened the scoring 9:05 into the first period when she took a Karlie Bell pass, blew in on the left wing and sifted a wrister into the far top corner past Red Deer goalie Tracie Kikuchi.
"I honestly couldn't have done it without the two consecutive passes," she said of the play set up by Nikki Reimer and Bell. "That was a great play-by-play breakout. I didn't honestly see any linemates with me. I didn't even know where the net was – I just threw it there. So, I was kind of shocked."
The second-year Hay Lakes, AB product had two more glorious chances in the contest. Five minutes into the second, she had a wide-open look from the slot but Kikuchi shut down her bar-down attempt. Later in the frame, she tried to whack in a puck sitting in the crease, but was unsuccessful.
"I've been really trying to focus on trying to find the back of the net this year and working on my rebound control in practice," she said. "There's a couple of times this weekend where she put those rebounds out and I was so close."
MacWilliam does so many other things well for the Griffins that she can be forgiven for only scoring half of the team's goals on Friday. Right?
"Jill's a very threatening player for us – great defensively," said McAlpine. "She's probably the best player in this league in the faceoff circle – always has well over a 75% game average. She's a good playmaker and has good finish."
MacEwan defenceman Skoye scored what would stand up as the game-winning goal at 10:19 of the second period when she drifted in from the point and blasted a slapper past a screened Kikuchi.
Red Deer pressed hard for most of the final period, getting within one off Jade Petrie's powerplay slapshot goal past a screened Sandy Heim just 1:57 into the frame.
Then, MacEwan caught a break with 8:52 left when Red Deer's Julia Murrell sent a shot off Heim's blocker and Emily Lougheed potted the would-be tying goal off the rebound. But the official, thinking Heim had it, blew the whistle before the puck went in and waved off the tally.
Heim made 26 saves to pick up the victory, while Kikuchi stopped 29 of 31 for the Queens.
MacWilliam was named MacEwan's player of the game, while Petrie got the nod for Red Deer.
Griffins forward Bell, who picked up an assist, deserves an honourable mention as she was all over the ice, particularly on the penalty kill.
"She had an unbelievable game for us today," said McAlpine. "She's a player that sometimes flies under the radar for us.
"I actually just spoke about her in there," she added with a nod to the room. "She played a complete offensive and defensive game for us. It's those habits and details we talk about day-in and day-out that she exemplified tonight."
Next up for the Griffins is a home date with cross-town rival NAIT (Oct. 13, 7 p.m., DCA). Red Deer next hosts Olds College on Oct. 12.