Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Not knowing that one day she'd be wearing the same jersey, Kyrelle Skoye used to cheer on her older sister Jayden when she played for the MacEwan Griffins women's hockey team from 2009-2011.
"I remember during Jayden's playoffs, me and my other sister and cousins would paint our faces," she recalled. "I would have been in Grade 9, but I never thought I was going to play here."
Her other sister, Matana, also played for the Griffins (2011-2013), but now it's Kyrelle's turn to shine. And that she is, excelling all over the ice in her second season as a Griff.
"She was a player coming in that I would have touted to be a seventh, eighth D and she was quite clear about that and knew that coming in," said Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "She has kind of shocked me ever since. Even since the first half ended last year, she kind of moved into a top-six role. Then in the second half of the year she played a big role for us in the playoffs and heading into the final stretch where she was a big contributor on both special teams.
"I think this year she started where she finished last and has seen some dramatic improvements over the first half."
Skoye is coming off perhaps her best game as a Griffin, scoring twice in a 4-0 win over Olds last Saturday. Although she's a defenceman, her tallies weren't mere shots from the point.
"The first one was on the power play," she explained. "There were at least four of us in the slot and it poked out to the side and Shyla got it to me in the middle. I just saw it and said 'I have to put it in.'
"The second one, we had actually been practicing that play a lot in practice – just that exchange (along the half wall). I saw opportunity – Jill (MacWilliam) had a nice spot for me. I looked at the net and there were no players there, so I was like 'I have to go.' I went, took a shot, got my own rebound and went around and it went in. Definitely not a defenceman goal, but I'll take it."
That instinct of when to head to the net was honed through playing forward for a season-and-a-half in bantam and midget in St. Albert. That said, Skoye embraced the blueliner's creed of stinginess and laying her body on the line. Blocking shots is not for the feint of heart. But Skoye?
"That's probably my favourite thing to do out of anything," she said. "When any player blocks shots, we go crazy. We pride ourselves on blocking shots and getting no shots against us."
That a big reason why the Griffins have six shutouts this season and have allowed a league-low 20 goals against in 14 contests (although you also have to tip your caps to goalies Sandy Heim and Natalie Bender).
Skoye will lead the Griffins into action this weekend against SAIT (Friday, 7 p.m., in Calgary, 7 p.m. and Saturday, 6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena) as her game continues to get better and better.
"Obviously I had to work harder on a lot of things," she said of her improvements so far. "I had to work harder on my strength to get faster. My biggest weakness right now is probably my shot, but I've been working hard to get that better. I've been trying to play to my strengths and that's why I got into the top six spots."
The Griffins will put a 10-1-3 record on the line against the Trojans (2-11-1). It's another rematch of last season's ACAC Championship series (won by MacEwan), so you can throw the records out the window.
SAIT is coming on strong, just as they did in the second-half last season, as they make a push for the final playoff spot. They split with league-leading NAIT in a series last weekend.
"Their goalies are playing great," said McAlpine. "NAIT threw a ton of shots at them this weekend and they didn't give up a ton, especially in the second game.
"SAIT's a hard team to scout because they're a little unorthodox in their system play – they kind of go out there and change things on the fly. They do have a couple of offensive players who are quite dangerous that we have to be careful of."