Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – With three-goal outburst in the third period, the NAIT Ooks broke open a tie game and handed the MacEwan Griffins women's hockey team their first regulation loss of the season – 4-1 on Saturday night at the Downtown Community Arena.
In a battle for top spot in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference, the Ooks were the better team for most of the night, using a defensive shell to constantly disrupt the neutral zone and shut down shooting lanes.
"They did play a solid defensive game," said Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "I thought tonight they were usually in the right spot and I thought we didn't put ourselves in positions to break it.
"I thought we just kind of fell into it. We accepted them bumping us and taking the puck away."
NAIT scored the lone goal of the opening period when Kaitlyn Whaley chipped a rebound over Sandy Heim.
MacEwan drew even with the only goal of the second and it was a beauty. Shyla Jans was sent in on a breakaway and shot it bar down past NAIT's Karlee Fetch.
But NAIT came out of the intermission with some gusto as Hannah Fouillard tipped Kenda Hanson's point shot past Heim on the power play just 20 seconds into the final frame.
While that would stand up as the winner, the Ooks added insurance tallies from Brittney Savard – hustling onto a deflected puck and scoring through a screen in the slot – and Verca Kuzelova – stealing the puck in the neutral zone, zooming in down the wing and tucking it five-hole.
It would be easy to point at the third period as MacEwan's downfall, but McAlpine didn't think her team was intense enough all night.
"I actually don't think we started doing it right from the start," she said. "I think we struggled all game to find our game. We were fighting the puck. I thought our intensity wavered as we went through the game. I made some choices at the end to switch players into critical moment roles because they at least had that investment in the game.
"I think tonight was a good learning opportunity for us going into the break that we cannot take things for granted," she added. "I know we're a solid team and I think we expect that from ourselves, but wins don't just come in our league. NAIT's an excellent team and I think they always come out to play against us and I think they were more prepared to play than we were this weekend."
Fetch made 26 saves for NAIT, who move to 8-2-0 on the season, three points behind the Griffins (8-1-3) with two games in hand. Heim made 31 saves for MacEwan, who have a bye next weekend and will get an early start on their Christmas break.
Without a game now until Jan. 4, it will give them plenty of time to reflect.
"We've had a pretty successful season so far," said assistant captain Shanya Shwetz. "Our highs are high and our lows are low. We have to learn to be consistent. I think that's what we need to focus on over Christmas break is how to get our mental game under control. Today, it just wasn't there."
It's possible NAIT will be sitting ahead of them in the standings at the break, but it's the second half of the season that counts the most, a fact the defending ACAC champion Griffins can attest to.
"The second half in this league is so critical," said McAlpine. "We're going to go into the break finishing first or second, which is a good position for us. But this is a good wakeup moment for us – what are you going to do right to come back and be ready to go come January?"