Declan Riley, Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – The MacEwan Griffins honoured graduating seniors Shanya Shwetz, Jessica Dyck and Sydney Thomlison before taking care of business, skating to a 5-2 victory over the SAIT Trojans in their regular season finale on Saturday night.
Then they got some help.
Just up the LRT track at NAIT Arena, the Red Deer Queens beat the NAIT Ooks 2-1 in a shootout and the Griffins clinched first place in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference as a result.
Head coach Lindsay McAlpine said they had that game on in the coaches' room at the Downtown Community Arena, while Griffins players were watching it on their phones in the locker-room across the hall.
"When Red Deer got that (shootout winner), you could hear the cheer from our room matched the cheer from theirs, so it was pretty funny," she said.
That left NAIT (18-4-2-0) at 38 points, while MacEwan passed them with 39 (18-3-3-0) – a result only possible after the Ooks astonishingly lost twice to RDC (14-5-5-0) and MacEwan swept SAIT on the final weekend of the regular season.
"To be honest, no," said McAlpine on whether she thought first was a possibility before the weekend. "I was quite shocked that NAIT went down in a sweep, but credit to our league. Any of the four teams that are left can absolutely win."
That locks in a best-of-three first-round playoff match for the Griffins against fourth-place Olds (6-17-1-0), which will kick off on Thursday (7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena). NAIT and RDC will meet in the other series for the right to advance to the final.
The Griffins beat the Olds Broncos five out of six times this season, outscoring them 23-7. There's no question that getting the top seed gives them an easier opponent than RDC would have been, but there's always any given Sunday …
"If you look at our games this season, we have more offensive production against Olds than we have against Red Deer, for sure," said McAlpine. "Red Deer's goalie is arguably the best in our league.
"I think one thing we need to be cautious of is that intensity shift in our mindset – Red Deer vs Olds. That's something we'll have to focus on this week."
There was no intensity issue against SAIT on Saturday. The Griffins left nothing for granted as they rolled to a victory over the Trojans, who will miss the playoffs a season after falling to MacEwan in the ACAC Championship series.
Just over two minutes in to the game, the Griffins took advantage of a fumble by SAIT goalie Elisha Oswald in front of her net when Karlie Bell buried a loose puck from the hash marks.
Mitchell struck for the first time with 3:22 left in the first period.
High-pitched cheers could be heard above all the others as several young girls cheered on their role models and later attended an autograph session after the game.
Midway through the second period, Amanda Murray made it 3-0.
Shortly after, though, the Trojans snapped out of autopilot, hungry to get on the board. With eight minutes left in the second, Shealee Dolan got them on the scoresheet and they gained steam.
Less than two minutes later, Karmen Mooney pulled the visitors to within one after beating Sandy Heim on a SAIT powerplay.
With less than seven minutes remaining in the third period, Reimer streaked down the wing and sniped the puck top shelf to give MacEwan a little insurance.
Graduating seniors Shwetz and Dyck each had an assist in the final home regular season game of their university careers. They were feted before the contest, along with captain and fellow graduate Thomlison.
"It's exactly what our seniors exemplify, is that everyone wants to play this game for them," said McAlpine. "They're a group of girls that have been through the Griffins' lows and now everyone's getting to ride the high of where our team is sitting right now.
"I think it's all credit to the work that players like Shanya Shwetz, Syd Thomlison and Jess have put in on and off the ice for some many years here."
ICE CHIPS … Heim made 24 saves for the win, while Oswald had 42 for the Trojans … Players of the game were awarded to Dolan (SAIT) and Mitchell (MacEwan).